OH HAI EVERYONE. I’m back! After writing my senior thesis and then *dying* for a few weeks. I SHOULD BE BACK MORE REGULARLY. I will tell you all about my journey with Tiptree, Russ and Butler soon. Maybe. Feminist Science Fiction, yay!
(can you tell I’m still exhausted from the end of the semester?)
Anyways. Back to your regularly scheduled yelling and rants and statistics!
[Content Note: GIFs, misogyny, racism]
Whenever I explain about why I prefer television to movies, I throw one random line in: “Television is more friendly to women.”
Don’t ask me where I first got that idea. It’s one of those unexamined assumptions floating around my brain. But I’m not the only one who thinks this way. It seems like a broadly accepted truth that television is some kind of haven for women. Movies are aimed towards men. Videogames are aimed towards men. But more women watch television. Waaaay more women watch television. Network prime time television has 65-70% female viewership. Some stations, like the CW, go up to 70-75%.
With those kinds of numbers, television as a medium must be female friendly, right? It must have lots of female creators and female characters and female-friendly stories, right?
See, this is why I should always examine my unexamined assumptions.
Sure, women watch more TV. But according to the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, only 38.9% of characters in prime-time programs are women (compared to a 60%-65% female viewership). Only 22% of prime time shows feature girls and women in roughly half of all speaking parts. And 20% of shows cast men or boys in 75% or more of speaking roles.
TV! The Land of
Women Mostly Men!
(also, I swear to claude, if anyone responds “but there are more men on TV because women WANT to see more men because all women are attracted to men and only want to see men men men men and they hate women” I will throw things. LOTS OF THINGS)
So that’s what’s happening on-screen. But what about off-screen? Who is creating these shows? Who produces them, directs them, writes them?
Every year when the Oscars come around, feminists (including me) complain about how few female writers and directors are recognized by the academy. Movie directing and writing is still very much a boys-club.Given the high female viewership, would it be different for TV? Do female creators thrive in television?
(probably not, tho)
Two months ago – right before the hell of writing my honors thesis hit – I decided to find out. Given my interest in SF/F – and the time necessary to gather the stats (the numbers for one TV show takes about 15 minutes, which sounds fine… until you realize there are hundreds of prime-time shows) – I decided to concentrate on female creators in SF/F television. Plus, in SF/F fandom, we often talk about the number – and visibility – of female creators in books, in comics and in movies. The television stats, I thought, would make an interesting addition to the discussion, especially given how many big, influential SF/F shows there are on TV today.
The following statistics are very ad-hoc. Very ad-hoc. Which isn’t to say that they aren’t interesting, or that they don’t speak to the general state of female creators in SF/F television. But they were done by one overwhelmed blogger with a weird methodology. They are not supposed to be the be-all, end-all of a discussion.
Thus: I made a list of as many SF/F shows that appeared in North America in 2012 and 2013 and that I could think of/find on the internet. I was pretty loose about the definition of SF/F, which is why you’ll see shows like Elementary and Drop Dead Diva (she is a GHOST) on the list. I only looked at one season of each show: for those shows that had more than one season, I chose whichever season was most current. So for Supernatural, I looked at Season 8 (the 2012-2013 season) as opposed to Season 7 (the 2011-2012 season), while for Eureka, I looked at the 2012 season (because that was the show’s last season).
The twenty six shows I covered are: Lost Girl, Eureka, Beauty and the Beast, Being Human (US), Alcatraz, Arrow, Touch, Fringe, The Neighbors, Last Resort, Revolution, Vampire Diaries, True Blood, Once Upon A Time, Person of Interest, Drop Dead Diva, The Walking Dead, Alphas, Warehouse 13, Supernatural, Game of Thrones, Elementary, Grimm, Falling Skies, Teen Wolf and Doctor Who.
I only took stats on episodes that had already aired, which would have been a great idea if I hadn’t let two months go by between gathering the stats and writing up this post. This is why, for example, I looked at Game of Thrones season 2, instead of Game of Thrones season 3 – season 3 hadn’t started when I gathered the stats. Like I said: this stats gathering is wonky. WONKY. I thought about redoing the stats for shows that aired more episodes, but it took me twelve hours of work to gather stats the first time and I’m lazy. So, fair warning.
(Fun experiment: if you were really dedicated, you could use these stats to figure out the exact date when All The Shit Hit The Fan and I had to abandon my blog for three months)
Once I had the 26 shows, I calculated the gender breakdown for
1. The Executive Producers (colloquially known as the showrunners)
2. The episode directors
3. The episode writers
4. How many episodes were written by men v. women. As I quickly realized, sometimes a show can have a fair number of female writers… while most of the episodes are still written by men.
The results were… interesting. And by interesting, I mean “depressing.”
In 77% percent of SF/F shows, less than half the writers were female. 77%. Twenty out of twenty six.
Twenty three percent of shows – 6 shows – had 50% or more female writers. Out of those 6 shows, only three had a majority of female writers (three shows were exactly gender-balanced). So basically, 77% of shows are majority-male written, 11.5% are majority-female written, and 11.5% are perfectly gender-balanced.
On average, 68.2% of writers for SF/F shows were men, while 31.5% of them were women.
I want to go deeper in those numbers, because there might be an instinct to go “well, there are some shows where men dominate, and some shows where women dominate, and it all evens out.” Which: no.There are 77% of shows where men dominate, and 11.5% of shows where women dominate, so it’s clearly NOT evening out. But even in those shows where women “dominate,” they don’t dominate in the same ways men do. Numbers, please!
The highest percentage of female writers on a show is 57%. The highest percentage of male writers is 100% (in fact, there are two shows – Doctor Who and Teen Wolf – where all the writers are male). The lowest percentage of male writers is 43%. The lowest percentage of female writers is 0%. In other words, while there are shows with no female writers, there are no shows that do not have male writers. There is always male representation, and the lowest male representation is 43%… for two out of twenty six shows.
In 31% of SF/F shows, less than one fourth of the writers were female. Most shows – 46% – employ between 25% and 49% percent female writers. 11.5% employ exactly the same number of men and women, and 11.5% employ a higher number of women (between 51-57%).
Do women thrive as SF/F television writers? I don’t know about you, but I would not call that “thriving.”
If you think the numbers for female writers are depressing, you might want to take a second before we move on to the statistics for female directors. Trust me, we haven’t even gotten to the
best worst part.
Out of twenty six shows, absolutely NONE had 50% or more female directors. Zero. Zip. Nada.
Ten of the twenty six shows – Thirty eight percent – had ZERO female directors. A whooping 96% of the shows had 75% or more male directors.
Let me rephrase that: in twenty five out of twenty six SF/F shows, less than one fourth of the directors were female. Only one show had more than 25% female directors.
On average, 89.9% of directors for SF/F shows were men, while 10.9% of them were women. Men aren’t just a majority of directors. They’re an overwhelming majority. Women barely have any presence at all.
So that’s the cursory overview state of women in the marvelously female-friendly land of television.
Unexamined assumptions, huh? Really worth examining.
Here’s the complete breakdown for writers, directors and executive producers for all twenty six shows. I put them in order of highest-to-lowest percentage of female writers (which yields results both obvious – Game of Thrones is #21 – and surprising: Elementary is #22).
1. Lost Girl (Season 3)
Executive Producers: 3 (2 men, 1 woman) 33% women, 67% men
Director: 6 (5 men, 1 woman) 16% women, 84% men
Writers: 7 (3 men, 4 women) 57% women, 43% men
-episodes written only by women: 4 (57%)
-episodes written only by men: 3 (43%)
2. Eureka (season 5)
Executive producers: 2 (1 woman, 2 men) 33% women, 67% men
Directors: 8 (3 women, 5 men) 37.5% women, 62.5% men
Writers: 14 (8 women, 6 men) 57% women, 43% men
- Episodes written only by men: 3 (23%)
- Episodes written only by women: 4 (30%)
- Episodes written by both: 6 (46%)
3. Beauty and the Beast (Season 1)
Executive producers: 11 (3 men, 8 women) 27% women, 73% men
Director: 12 (11 men, 1 woman) 8% women, 92% men
Writer: 11 (6 women, 5 man) 54% women, 46% men
- written only by men: 4 (28.5%)
- written only by women: 6 (43%)
- written by both: 4 (28.5%)
4. Being Human (season 3)
Executive producers: 2 (1 man, 1 woman) 50% men, 50% women
Directors: 4 (3 men, 1 woman) 75% men, 25% women
Writers: 8 (4 men, 4 women) 50% men, 50% women
- Episodes written only by men: 3 (43%)
- Episodes written only by women: 3 (43%)
- Episodes written by both: 1 (14%)
5. Alcatraz (season 1)
Executive Producers: 5 (4 men, 1 woman) 20% women, 80% men
Directors: 8 – all men (100% men)
Writers: 10 (5 men, 5 women) (50% women, 50% men)
- Episodes written only by men: 4 (31%)
- Episodes written only by women: 4 (31%)
- Episodes written by both: 5 (38%)
6. Arrow (Season 1)
Executive Producers: 4 (all men) 100%
Directors: 13 (12 men, 1 woman) 8% women, 92% men
Writer: 10 (5 men, 5 women) 50% men, 50% women
- Episodes written only by men: 7 (44%)
- Episodes written only by women: 3 (19%)
- Episodes written by both: 6 (37%)
7. Touch (season 2)
Executive producers: 7 (3 women, 4 men) 43% women, 57% men
Directors: 4 (all men) 100% men
Writers: 5 (2 women, 3 men) 40% women, 60% men
- episodes written only by men: 3 (60%)
- episodes written only by women: 2 (40%)
- episode written by both: 0
8. Fringe (Season 5)
Episodes : 13
Executive producers: 1 man (100% male)
Directors: 12, all men (100% male)
Writers: 5 (3 men, 2 women) 40% women, 60% men
- 9 episodes written by only men (69%)
- 4 episodes written by only women (31%)
- 0 written by both
9. The Neighbors (season 1)
Executive producers: 4 (all men) 100% men
Directors: 7 (all men) 100% men
Writers: 10 (4 women, 6 men) 40% women, 60% men
- Episodes written only by men: 9 (50%)
- Episodes written only by women: 4 (22%)
- Episodes written by both: 5 (27%)
10. Last Resort (season 3)
Executive Producers: 4, all men 100% men
Directors: 10 (8 men, 2 women) (20% women, 80% men)
Writers: 11 (3 women, 8 men) (37.5% women, 62.5% men )
- Episodes written only by men: 9 (70%)
- Episodes written only by women: 4 (30%)
- Episodes written by both: 0 (0%)
11. Revolution (season 1)
Executive Producers: 3 (all men) 100% men
Directors: 8 (all men) 100% men
Writers: 8 (3 women, 5 men) 37.5% women, 62.5% men
- Episodes written only by men: 6 (60%)
- Episodes written only by women: 2 (20%)
- Episodes written by both: 2 (20%)
12. Vampire Diaries (season four)
Executive Producers: 4 (2 men, 2 women ) - 50% men, 50% women
Directors: 12 (11 men, 1 woman) - 91% men, 9% women
Writers: 11 (4 women, 7 men) - 36% women, 64% men
- 6 episodes written only by men (40%)
- 5 episodes written only by women (34%)
- 4 episodes written by both (26%)
13. True Blood (Season 5)
Executive producer: 2 (both men) 100% men
Directors: 9 (8 men, 1 woman) 11% women, 89% women
Writers: 6 (2 women, 4 men) 33% women, 67% men
- Episodes written only by men: 8 (67%)
- Episodes written only by women: 4 (37%)
- Both: 0 (0%)
14. Once Upon a Time (Season 2)
Executive Producers: 2 (both men) 100% men
Directors: 10 (9 men, 1 woman) 90% men, 10% women
Writers: 10 (3 women, 7 men) 70% men, 30% women
-10 episodes written by only men (67%)
- 4 episode written by only women (27%)
- 1 episode written by both (6%)
15. Person of Interest (season 2)
Executive Producers: 5, all men (100% male)
Directors: 11 (10 men, 1 woman) 9% women, 91% men
Writers: 13 (4 women, 9 men) 30% women, 70% men
- 9 episodes written only by men (60%)
- 3 episodes written only by women (15%)
- 3 episodes written by both (15%)
16. Drop Dead Diva (Season 4)
Executive Producers: 5 (all men) 100% men
Directors: 9 (8 men, 1 woman) 11% women, 89% men
Writers: 11 (3 women, 8 men) 27% women, 73% men
- Episodes written only by men: 9 (69%)
- Episodes written only by women: 1 (8%)
- Episodes written by both: 3 (27%)
17. The Walking Dead (Season 3)
Executive producers: 2 (both men) 100%
Directors: 9 (2 women, 7 men) 22% women, 78% men
Writers: 8 (2 women, 6 men) 25% women, 75% men
- Episodes written only by men: 8 (67%)
- Episodes written only by women: 4 (33%)
- Episodes written by both: 0 (0%)
18. Alphas (season 2)
Executive Producers: 6 (all men) 100% men
Directors: 8 (6 men, 2 women) 25% women, 75% men
Writers: 11 (8 men, 3 women) 27% women, 73% men
- Episodes written only by men: 9 (69%)
- Episodes written only by women: 1 (8%)
- Episodes written by both: 3 (27%)
19. Warehouse 13 (season 4)
Executive Producers; 3 (all men) 100% men
Directors: 6 (all men) 100% men
Writers: 9 (2 women, 7 men) (22% women, 78% men)
- Episodes written only by men: 6 (60%)
- Episodes written only by women: 4 (40%)
- Episodes written by both: 0
20. Supernatural (season 8)
Executive Producers: 1 (male)
Directors: 14 (14 men) 100% men
Writers: 9 (7 men, 2 women) - 22% women, 78% men
- 12 episodes written only by men (81%)
- 1 episode written only by women (6%)
- 3 episodes written by both (13%)
21. Game of Thrones (season 2)
Executive producers: 2 (both men) 100% men
Directors: 5 (all men) 100% men
Writers: 5 (4 men, 1 woman) 20% women, 80% men
- episodes written by only men: 8 (80%)
- episodes written by only women: 2 (20%)
- episodes written by both: 0
22. Elementary (Season 1)
Executive producers: 4 (3 male, 1 female) – 25% women, 75% men
Directors: 14 (11 male, 3 female) - 20% women, 80% men
Writers: 12 (2 women, 10 men) – 16% women, 84% men
- 13 episodes written only by men: 76%
- 2 episodes written only by women: 12%
- 2 episodes written by both: 12%
23. Grimm (season 2)
Executive Producers: 5 (all men) 100%
Directors: 12 (2 women, 10 men) 17% women, 83% men
Writers: 10 (1 woman, 9 men) 10% women, 90% men
- Episodes written only by men: 9 (90%)
- Episodes written only by women: 1 (10%)
- Episodes written by both: 0
24. Falling Skies (season 2)
Executive Producer: 1 (male) 100% men
Directors: 7 (6 men, 1 woman) 14% women, 86% men
Writers :7 (6 men, 1 woman) 14% women, 86% men
- episodes written only by men: 8 (80%)
- episodes written only by women: 2 (20%)
25. Teen Wolf (Season 2)
Executive Producers: 6 (5 men, 1 woman) 16% women, 84% men
Directors: 2 (all men) 100% men
Writers: 6 (all men) 100% men
26. Doctor Who (series 7)
Executive Producers: 1 (man) 100% men
Directors: 4 (all men) 100% men
Writers: 3 (all men) 100% men
(note: the executive producer stats are BY FAR the most fuzzy. With some shows, it’s really hard to tell WHO the showrunner is. So take those stats with a MASSIVE grain of salt, and correct me if I’m wrong)
A few weeks after I took these statistics, articles began to pop up about Steven Moffat, Doctor Who’s showrunner. Apparently, people figured out that he hadn’t had a female writer on the show during his entire tenure as showrunner.
I will not lie! My initial reaction was: “Damn, they got the drop on me. This is why you publish blog posts EARLY, girl.”
Anyways – people were understandably mad at Stephen Moffat. Doctor Who is a very popular Sci-Fi show – more importantly, it’s a show that is very popular with women. Steven Moffat has had thirty two episodes to work with. You’re telling me he can’t find one female writer he wants on the show? Over thirty two episodes? Not a single one?
Yeah, it’s pretty terrible.
It’s also worth noting that Steven Moffat has had zero female directors and zero female writers on the other show he runs, Sherlock. And he hasn’t had a female director on Doctor Who in two series (twenty four episodes). So it’s a pretty obvious pattern.
But here’s the thing. Steven Moffat is not a glaring exception from the norm. Steven Moffat is the norm. A slightly more extreme version, yes. But only slightly.
And listen, I do not like Steven Moffat. At all. My boyfriend and I recently watched all of Doctor Who, and it’s pretty striking how quickly our attitude went from “yay, another Doctor Who episode to watch!” to “… I guess we should watch the next episode of Doctor Who, huh? Blurrrgh” when Moffat took over as showrunner.
(Aside from anything else, he’s not a good writer. Example: WHY THE FUCK DID THE TARDIS BLOW UP? Are we ever going to find out? WHY DID THE SILENCE NEED RIVER SONG IN THE FIRST PLACE, if the spacesuit was CONTROLLING THE PERSON INSIDE IT?) Plus Steven Moffat is terrible to female characters. Like, painfully terrible. I have so many rants stored up about his treatment of Amy Pond, River Song and Clara Oswin.
… sorry, that rant was supposed to be shorter. Point being: I do not like Steven Moffat. I do not want to defend Steven Moffat. But he is not alone in his show’s lack of female creators. So if we’re going to call him out for his lack of female writers, we should also call out all the other shows with few – or zero – female writers and directors.
And that’s basically all of them.
Put it this way: I’m worried we’re turning Steven Moffat into the bogeyman. He’s terrible to female characters! He’s terrible to female creators! He says the most despicable shit in interviews (as a bisexual woman, I particularly enjoyed his comment that he doesn’t put bisexuals on his shows because “[bisexuals] are too busy having fun” to care about representation. Thanks. No, seriously). So we (correctly) get outraged and yell at him a lot, and call him out etc.
But meanwhile, we don’t even notice that, say, Elementary’s writers are 80% male, and its directors are 84% male. Elementary is a great show for female representation. It’s a great show for POC representation. It includes all kinds of feminist concepts like boundaries, consent, good treatment of abuse victims, gaslighting etc. But behind the scenes? It’s only a tiny bit better than Doctor Who.
How about Once Upon A Time, a show where the hero, the villain and a whole lot of the main supporting characters are all female? Where there are a lot of kick-ass, interesting, complex women? Where women are portrayed in a variety of ways (not just the Strong Female Character TM?) Ninety percent of their directors are men. Seventy percent of their writers are men.
(and it’s a show that tends to fail pretty hard on female characters of color).
So why does it matter? If a show is doing well in terms of female representation, why should we care if their writing staff and directorial pool is filled with men?
That argument – the “good representation in one area negates bad representation in another” argument – is, I submit to you, poppycock.
Having more women writing, producing and directing TV shows is good in and of itself. Not just because it might bring about better female representation – as we’ve seen, men are capable of writing good female characters, and of avoiding sexist narratives. Better female representation might be a side effect of more female writers, producers and directors, but it’s not the only reason to push for it.
Both Elementary and Once Upon A Time do a better job with female characters than Doctor Who. A way better job. Hell, I would go so far as to say that even Game of Thrones does a better job with female characters (when it’s not busy adding more sexism to the source material). But it’s not just how you write the female characters in your show. It’s not just how you incorporate feminist concepts into your script. It’s also who you think is good enough to CREATE that show. To create those worlds. To tell those stories.
For most SF/F shows, the people they think are good enough to create those shows and tell those stories are – men. Sure, there are a few women thrown in there. But mostly, it’s men.
And not having good representation of female creators isn’t just an implicit commentary on who you think is good enough to create a show. It also has economic consequences.
Having more female creators on TV shows is important because it means women are getting paid. I don’t know how to spell it out more clearly: these are jobs. These are jobs for which people are getting paid. And women are not getting paid to do these jobs, because women are not getting these jobs. It’s part of the reason I thought the sexism on American Idol in the last two seasons was particularly terrible – by denying women a chance to compete in the higher ranks of Idol, you’re denying them a higher paycheck. And that matters. On a basic, fundamental level, this is about money and jobs. Money and jobs that women cannot get, even on shows that are supposed to be catering to women (like the Vampire Diaries or True Blood). We need to support women economically just as much as we need to support women creatively.
And yes, representation offscreen is also important because it’s about supporting women creatively. As the stats show, women are not allowed to write, create, or direct their own stories. Even in shows that are ostensibly about women (Once Upon A Time, True Blood etc.) and that are ostensibly aimed towards a female audience, men are the ones creating, crafting and writing women’s stories. We don’t get control over our own narratives. Which is problematic because women are a marginalized group. The right to self-definition is one we rarely have – we are the other, not the self. The Self – men – get to define us. And part of breaking down oppression and marginalization is gaining the ability to define ourselves – to write ourselves, to tell our own stories.
(This is not an argument that no man should ever write about women. It’s an institutional problem, not an individual one, which we can change by getting *more* women into the industry. Nor is it an argument that women are obligated to write about women – it’s important women be able to write about men, particularly since many people still think women are restricted to writing about their own experiences)
Moreover, most showrunners – the people who create those new shows, new mythologies, new characters, new stories – start off as TV directors or TV writers. If we want more showrunners to be women, we need to give them access to writing and directing jobs.
In other words, when we think about women in the television industry, we need to remember that both women’s representation onscreen and women’s representation offscreen matters. We shouldn’t write off bad representation behind the scenes just because a show has good female characters onscreen; a show can do well in one respect and fail in the other. And both sorts of representation (or lack of representation) have consequences.
For example, consider a girl who loves Doctor Who. She loves Amy Pond (one of the Doctor’s recent companions) so much that she decides to become a writer, just like Amy. And since she enjoys SF/F TV so much, she decides to become a television writer. Maybe she’ll even get a job on Doctor Who!
The problem is, given the current state of SF/F television (and Doctor Who) – she would probably have a really hard time getting work.
There are consequences to not promoting female creators offscreen.
These statistics, unfortunately, are fundamentally flawed. They only look at one axis of marginalization (sexism), and they do so with no real intersectionality. It is undoubtably the case that women of color have an even harder time getting jobs writing or directing SF/F TV shows. It’s almost certainly true that there are very few POC (men or women) writing or directing network television. That I didn’t look at these statistics means that my conclusions are inherently flawed – I can tell you that women are less likely to be hired, but I can’t tell you if certain kinds of women (white women, straight women, abled women) have an easier time, or if women are more likely to be hired than POC. Partially, these flaws come from the fact that it’s much easier to tell how many women v. men write a show – you can just count names (ah, the convenience of gendered names). I also tried to figure out number of POC writing for certain shows, and felt really gross, as a white woman, trying to guess who was a POC and who wasn’t from pictures (when I couldn’t find any self-identification).
But I do think the information I didn’t gather – information on race etc. – is crucial to understanding who exactly is allowed to create SF/F television.
For example, in taking a second look at Elementary, I realized that even if Elementary doesn’t do a great job with female writers and directors, it does do a pretty good job in terms of Directors of Color. They had at least two WOC and three MOC directing episodes (out of twenty four episodes). Which isn’t perfect, but it’s a lot better than most shows. While that doesn’t negate Elementary’s lack of women, it does provide an extra dimension to consider (and gives me hope that they’re *trying*)
Here are some broad, if incomplete, statistics to add to my numbers. According to the Writers Guild of America West, 87.3% of television screenwriters are white (while only 63.7% of the US population is non-hispanic white/european American). And 55 shows in the 2011-2012 television year hired no writers of color. Those shows include Game of Thrones and Once Upon A Time.
I mean, again: even shows that are good about representation onscreen can be terrible about representation behind the scenes (not that either Game of Thrones or Once Upon A Time is good about POC representation onscreen). And it’s important to document and publicize those aspects of representation.
On a final note, these statistics are important because they belie the idea that creators and narratives respond to the audience – as opposed to the patriarchy. One of the most common (misogynistic) arguments you’ll hear when you talk about lack of female creators in literature or in movies or in comic books is that the audience for those mediums is mostly male. Therefore, the creators are mostly male, because they’re best suited to respond to male desires. So it’s not misogyny! It’s just Reflecting the Audience.
This is a bullshit, victim-blaming argument to begin with, but it’s pretty much completely disproven if you look at the television statistics. Women watch way more television than men. Women watch way more network television than men. And yet women are still in the minority – often in the overwhelming minority – when it comes to creating television. It’s an important reminder that institutions don’t primarily respond to the makeup of their audience. They respond to the patriarchy. Comic books are often sexist not because they are aimed towards men, but because they are part of the patriarchy. The movie industry is often sexist not because its products are aimed towards men, but because it is responding to the patriarchy. The solution is not just for more women to watch shows/read comics etc. The solution is to dismantle institutional sexism.
Is it easy? Nope.
Do I know how to do it (except by complaining online a lot and trying to raise awareness)? Nope
Is it worth doing? Absolutely.
Because this is just ridiculous.
(I miss Donna)
(also, as I mentioned, these statistics are super ad-hoc, so if you find errors, or if you want to add information, that would be very welcome! More info/getting a broader picture is always welcome)
(on the other hand, explaining why I am super-wrong and a bad statistics gatherer when I explain UPFRONT the problems with my methodology and *why* I didn’t have the capacity to do better is… not welcome. PRE-EMPTIVE WARNING)
[Content note for violence, violence against children, disablism]
Last week was not a good time for my happy levels. First, we had the Good Man Project (or,as I like to call it, the No Rapist Left Behind Project) debacle. Then a close friend of mine died unexpectedly. And on Friday, a gunman walked into Sandy Hooks Elementary School and killed twenty kids and seven adults.
I do not want to be writing this post.
Twenty eight people are dead. Twenty kid are dead, kids who are just a bit younger than my younger brother. I do not want to write about mental illness. It feels… wrong to use this as an excuse to talk about the rights of the mentally ill.
I was not planning on writing this post.
But then it started again. People diagnosing Adam Lanza over the internet, assuming he was mentally ill. An acquaintance saying “Evil is a mental illness.” Everyone, from politicians to newscasters to friends, talking about how we have a “mental health access” problem. There are very few spaces on the internet I can go where people aren’t talking about how we have a “mental illness problem” and how Adam Lanza was surely “mentally ill” and if we just had better access to mental health care this wouldn’t happen etc. Even my usually progressive and social-justice aware friends are falling into the pattern.
Now the Sandy Hooks massacre has everything to do with mental illness.
And now, even though I do not want to write this post, I need to write it.
I need to write it even though I know hundreds of other people will say the same things.
I need to write it especially because hundreds of smart bloggers and social justice crusaders and mental health advocates will say the same things. Because our voices are being out-shouted a thousand to one. We need to be heard if we’re even going to be allowed to participate in this farce of a conversation.
The Sandy Hooks massacre was not caused by mental illness. The mentally ill are not some mob of soon-to-be-violent, ticking time bombs. But damn it, if people are going to sit around and stigmatize the mentally ill as an excuse to avoid looking tragedy in the face? Then hell yeah, I’m going to talk about mental illness.
This is not a fun conversation for me to have. Those who follow the blog – or those who know me from Real Life – know I identify as mentally ill. I have a severe anxiety disorder and a major depressive disorder. Dealing with mental illness has defined my life for the past four or five years.
You’d think I’d be happy people are talking about mental illness. I, of all people, know how problematic it is for mental illness to be pushed under the rug, to be ignored and stigmatized.
Sadly, the conversation around Sandy Hooks embodies everything that is wrong with how we talk about mental illness:
1. Violence MUST be the product of.
Here’s the thing. As of this point, we don’t even know if Adam Lanza had a mental illness or disability of any kind. But strangely enough, we’re all talking about mental illness issues. It’s like we magically know Adam Lanza’s mental state.
But wait! We do! Because only mentally ill people would kill so many people. Ergo, Adam Lanza must be mentally ill.
Acting like violence is the product of mental illness – and ONLY the product of mental illness – is incredibly problematic. And saying that mental health access will solve gun violence is also incredible problematic. Both imply that mentally ill people are violent, dangerous and uncontrollable.
I’m sure some people are going “but they’re not talking about garden-variety depressives like you! They’re talking about the DANGEROUSLY mentally ill.”
Okay, first: *headdesk* again
Second: Yes, in fact, they’re talking about all of us mentally ill folk. The Rachel Maddow Show, for example, had a segment about how to prevent future shootings. The expert’s main recommendation? Adolescents should have a yearly screening for depression.
I’m sorry, how am I not supposed to interpret that as making a causal connection between depression and violence? Did the expert temporarily forget what he was talking about? Was he about to say “gun control laws” but then got his notes mixed up and started talking depression instead?
Nope. What he was saying was that if we do a better job catching depressives, we’ll have fewer school shootings.
Which implies that depression leads to violence.
[everyone better keep the butter knives away from me, I'M JUST SAYING]
The more people talk about how mental illnesses are linked to this type of violence, the more we assume mental illness means violence. And the more and more mental illness becomes stigmatized.
Ironically, stigmatizing mental illness tends to limit access to mental health care, not expand it. How many people do you honestly think are going to say “whoa, I’ve got a mental disability, I’d better get that checked out” after hearing about how mentally ill people are dangerous child killers? Not a whole lot. More people will avoid getting a diagnosis, aware that their condition could get them labeled as dangerous and violent.
Here’s the crucial thing, the thing people are ignoring completely: Violence isn’t linked to mental illness. This is a provable fact. Mentally ill populations – including populations with mental illnesses that we traditionally associate with violence (like schizophrenia) – are no more violent than everyone else.
Most mentally ill people are not violent. Most violent acts are committed by people who do not have mental illnesses. So the whole “Whoa, someone did something terrible! They must be CRAZY”?
To add insult to injury, people with mental illnesses are more likely than the rest of the population to be victims of violence. 3% of the general population experience violent crimes, while TWENTY FIVE percent of those with mental illnesses do.
Welcome to the upside-down world of public discourse on mental illnesses. In real life, most mentally ill people aren’t violent, and in fact are more likely to experience violence than the general population. In public discourse, however, mental illness is responsible for all the Terrible Violence, and no one is ever interested in talking about how people with mental illnesses are victimized and abused by violent crime [we'll come back to that point later]
2. Dehumanization of People with Mental Illnesses
In this national “conversation” about mental illness, you’ll notice something interesting: no one seems terribly interested in talking with mentally ill people.
The mentally ill are people we talk about, not people we talk to. We aren’t interested in having a conversation with them, despite the fact that they’re the ones most affected by the issue. We love telling horror stories about what happens to mentally ill people who don’t have access to mental health services, but we never ask people with mental illnesses what they think of the issue.
Could you imagine having a conversation about, say, women’s reproductive rights, and not inviting women speakers?
[... oh, wait, this is the United States I'm talking about. OF COURSE I could imagine a conversation about women's reproductive rights with absolutely no women involved. In fact, I've seen it happen! Bad example.]
By excluding people with mental illnesses from the conversation, and privileging the voices of those who see mental illness as something terrifying, we are dehumanizing people with mental illnesses. They are not even worth trying to understand. They’re just a problem to be solved, a fear to be controlled.
The most problematic entry in this category is the now-viral post “I am Adam Lanza’s Mother.” In the article, the writer discusses her fears that her mentally ill son could turn into an Adam Lanza, due to lack of access to adequate mental health care. .
[Initially, I linked to the original article, but since one of my critiques of "I am Adam Lanza's Mother" is that it violates her son's privacy, I decided that linking it would contribute to the problem. But if you want to read it, google!]
I want to be clear that I have a lot of sympathy for the author. I cannot imagine how difficult it must be to protect and care for her children, especially given how much stigma there is around mental illness, and how little support there is for children with mental illnesses. I am not disputing the legitimacy of her grievance, or of her pain. And I, like her, desperately want us to find better solutions for children with mental illnesses.
The article, however, is incredibly problematic. Not just because it appropriates a national tragedy. Not just because it appropriates Nancy Lanza’s experiences, or tries to express a solidarity with her that may not have existed.
But because it appropriates the son’s experiences.
There is a reason this went viral. And the fact that it was written by a “sane” person talking about a mentally ill person, rather than a person with mental illnesses talking about their own experiences? A big part of that reason.
The author – and the commenters – do not acknowledge that the son has his own experiences and ideas. They seem to have no interest in having a discussion with him, or with people like him. Instead, the son is portrayed solely as a problem, a terrifying child that no one can understand, an evil, calculating, rage-filled monster.
Would a post by a person with a mental illness speaking about their own experiences have the same impact?
This would not bother me nearly as much if this wasn’t usually the way it worked in conversations about mental health. When the broader community wants to “learn” about mental health issues, they do not go to people with mental illnesses. They go to their “sane” relatives, or their “sane” allies. In support groups for mental illnesses, for example, the voices of parents are far more privileged than are the voices of their mentally ill children.
I don’t think the perspective of family members or friends of people with mental illnesses are unimportant. But the reality is, those voices usually erase the voices of those with actual mental illnesses. The conversation is dominated by people who are “impacted” by mental illnesses because someone they know suffers from them, or because they have some sort of objective expertise. Meanwhile, those most impacted are shut out of the discussion entirely.
I cannot speak to the experiences of the author’s son. My various disorders are certainly nowhere near what he seems to be manifesting. But I know the frustration of people talking about your problems as if you weren’t in the room. It isn’t just that people don’t acknowledge that the mentally ill should be included in these conversations. It’s that they seem to forget we have a perspective at all.
Which is all kinds of ironic. If people were serious about addressing mental health issues, they would want to talk with people who suffer from mental illnesses. Those are valuable and important perspectives. In fact, they’re the most important and most valid perspectives.
Unfortunately, we’re just problems to be solved.
This, of course, adds to our sense that people with mental illnesses are unable to speak or advocate for themselves. That they have nothing valuable to contribute. That they’re so addled and deranged that they can’t possibly voice their own experiences.
I’m also deeply uncomfortable with the idea that the families or parents of people with mental illnesses are the best advocates for mental health issues.
Often, families will have agendas that are quite problematic, or that are at total odds with what people with mental illnesses actually want. And since the families/parents are the “sane” voices, their experiences are privileged. Moreover, our assumption that parents are best suited to advocate for their kids in these types of situations is based on the premise that parents always act in the best interest of their child. That, sadly, is not always true.
On The Rachel Maddow Show, the expert mentioned that although depressed kids want help, they almost never go to their parents. What he didn’t talk about is the reality that some of those kids won’t talk to their parents because it would not be safe for them to go to their parents. I’ve known people whose parents teased them for their mental illnesses, or who ignored their mental health problems, or who pressured them to go off medication before they were ready, or who denied them access to mental health care, or who told them their mental illnesses were just “character flaws” and they needed to “get over it.”
And unfortunately, sometimes, parents may be the reason why a child develops a mental illness (if, for example, the parent is emotionally or physically abusive).
Even when parents and families do have the best of intentions, they can make horrible, damaging mistakes. Unfortunately, the author of “I am Adam Lanza’s Mother” made one of those in writing her article under her real name. Now her child’s entire mental health history is available on the internet for anyone to read. No matter how horrible her child is, he has the right to privacy, and the right for the media and the internet not to know everything about him without his permission.
[I do think Lisa Long's decision not to use a pseudonym was an honest mistake, since I'm assuming she didn't anticipate her article would go viral. It is still an incredibly damaging mistake for her son and her other children.]
I’m not saying this because I think the author of “I am Adam Lanza’s Mother” article is a bad parent, or is responsible for her child’s mental health issues, or has anything but her child’s best interests in mind. I’m trying to explain how problematic to privilege the voices of parents or relatives in discussions of mentally ill kids.
You cannot have a constructive conversation about mental health care without including – and, yes, privileging – the voices of people with mental illnesses.
And you’re not going to get people with mental illnesses to join the conversation if you dehumanize them, act like they are the problem, or stigmatize them as violent. Which makes me suspect that this “conversation” is not actually about helping people with mental illnesses, but is about giving people an easy target to scapegoat.
3. Mental illness is only important when we think people with mental illness could be violent.
Somewhere around one fourth of all Americans will suffer from mental illnesses at least once in their lives. Most do not have access to adequate mental health resources. Mental illnesses are stigmatized and framed as “character flaws” rather than legitimate illnesses, which makes it even more difficult for people to access help. People with mental illnesses are more likely to be victims of violence. They struggle with getting proper job accommodations and with social stigma. Their voices are ignored and erased from conversations.
Mental illness, and mental health in this country, is an enormous problem.
Yet strangely enough, the only time when anyone seems interested in addressing this problem is when we’re (incorrectly) blaming the mentally ill for violence.
It reminds me of conversations around school bullying, where people argue that we need to curb bullying because the victims might become “troubled” and “violent” later.
Really? That’s why? That’s the problem with bullying?
And the real problem with mental illness is that people might turn violent? Really? Nothing else problematic about mental illness?
First, this whole “more mental health access = less gun violence” plan doesn’t compute. Since most mentally ill people aren’t violent, and most violent people aren’t mentally ill, increasing access to mental health care won’t solve our problem with mass violence.
Second: if you want me to have better mental health care access because you’re afraid I might get violent (as opposed to believing that everyone deserves access to mental health care because good mental health is valuable in-and-of-itself ) then you don’t give much of a shit about me. Or about anyone with mental health issues.
Here’s another way of looking at it: there’s a good chance some of the kids at Sandy Hook will develop mental health problems because of their experiences. Do they deserve mental health care because we want to help them? Or do they need mental health care because they might become “troubled” and “violent”?
Ironically, the people who stigmatize the mentally ill so they can protect the children? May be hurting the very kids they supposedly want to protect.
You know who needs mental health care? Everyone. Low-income families. Communities of color. Rural communities. Non-native English speakers. Children. We need to destigmatize mental illness so that it’s seen as a normal thing people go through, not as a character flaw. But that’s not a conversation anyone seems interested in having.
Instead, we want to look at acts of evil and say: that person is not like me. And if he is not like me, he must be mentally ill.
It’s a distancing technique. And it allows us to abdicate real responsibility for what happened.
I got in an argument on facebook with someone who claimed that “evil” is a mental illness. This attitude, sadly, is a trend. When we don’t understand something – or when we don’t WANT to understand something – we label it as crazy. But in a society that glorifies violence, that allows almost anyone access to assault weapons, a society that celebrates toxic masculinity and aggression, is Sandy Hook really that shocking?
To me, it seems like the logical – if horrifying – conclusion of our gun laws and our obsession with violence and aggression.
Instead of taking on the hard job of actually standing up to the NRA and the politicians and the pro-gun lobby, however, we would rather stigmatize an already marginalized community (and one that had nothing to do with the Sandy Hooks tragedy). After all, it’s so much easier to blame everything on mental illness than to come to a consensus that ASSAULT WEAPONS should not be available to anyone with a photo ID.
We live in a society where we can’t even manage to get stricter gun control after twenty kids are killed. But people with mental illnesses are the dangerous ones.
… yeah, no.
We desperately need to have a conversation about mental illness. We need to talk about access. We need to talk about how we routinely ignore certain segments of the population (especially the poor, the non-white and the non-american) when it comes to access. We need to change the discussion so that mental illness is seen as a legitimate problem, and not as a character flaw. We need to privilege the voices of people with mental illnesses, and acknowledge that they are the experts on their own experiences.
That, sadly, is not the conversation that is happening right now. Because people aren’t that interested in mental illness. They’re interested in easy (and incorrect) answers. They’re interested in blaming easy targets. And they’re interested in distancing themselves from the tragedy.
Like I said at the top of the post, I do not want to have a conversation about mental illness in the wake of the Sandy Hooks tragedy. But if people are going to stigmatize mental illness as a way to avoid looking at reality in the face?
Then yeah, I’m going to talk about it.
* Much thanks to my various friends who let me rant – and ranted with me – yesterday.
** Comments section will be moderated with the Iron Fist of the Feminist Batwoman. Priority for comments section is keeping them a safe space for me and for any other people with mental illnesses who may be reading. Personal attacks or arguments in bad faith would violate that safe space. Remember to use “I” words. And don’t police feelings.
Last year, an acquaintance of mine informed me that although he was pro-choice, he thought other pro-choicers (like me) often steamrolled over the very real tragedy of abortion (the baby-killing) in their eagerness to talk about “abstract right”
And then, dear Reader, I shot him.
… okay, I didn’t shoot him. But I entertained the notion. I also blew up at him, which is something I wasn’t doing that often back in 2011 (blogging has made me such a better, more publicly pissed-off human being).
What I said, as I recall, was “ABSTRACT RIGHTS FOR WHOM, YOU PRIVILEGED DIPSHIT? THE RIGHT TO CONTROL MY BODY IS NOT AN ABSTRACT RIGHT TO ME.”
And then I went on a long rant about how not-abstract the right to have an abortion was.
My acquaintance never responded, which I took as a victory.
I mention this incident not because it was unusual – I’ve gotten into lots of fights about abortion – but because of the argument led me to an epiphany. As I, filled with rage, typed up my response, I finally hit on why, exactly, abortion was such an important issue to me.
So why? Why do I care so much?
Because abortion isn’t just about a woman’s right to choose what happens to her pregnancy. It also symbolizes a woman’s right to control her own body FULL STOP. A woman has a right to abortion because her body is her own – not the government’s, not her partners, not her relatives, not the doctors.
There are very few things less “abstract’ than our ability to control our own bodies.
And, crucially, the right to bodily autonomy is not just about abortion. It’s not even just about contraception, or reproductive rights, or consent.
Not surprisingly, I have a story to explain my point.
So, random fact: I actually first started thinking about broader issues of bodily autonomy when I realized that November was pancreatic cancer month. Yes, I know, that seems random. But there is a reason to the random, I promise.
Pancreatic cancer is arguably the deadliest of all cancers in terms of survival rate. The one-year survival rate for all stages is 25%. The five-year survival is 5%. The median survival rate for metastasized or locally advanced cases (which account for 80% of all diagnoses) is 6 to 10 months. Pancreatic cancer kills almost as many people as breast and prostate cancer, yet receives less than 1% of the funds for cancer research – possibly because very few people survive the cancer long enough to become advocates.
A pancreatic cancer diagnosis is basically a death sentence.
When my maternal grandmother was in her early forties, she was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. She turned out to be somewhat of a miracle case, surviving almost ten years before the disease metastasized to her liver and killed her.
Here’s where this story gets back to bodily autonomy. My grandmother never knew she was a miracle case because she never knew she had cancer at all.
Wait! You say. She was diagnosed! How could she not know? Did the doctor give her the wrong diagnosis by accident, or something?
Oh, ha-ha, I wish. In fact, my grandmother’s husband (my… step-grandfather?) and her (male) doctor thought that my grandmother would be devastated if she found out she had cancer.
So they decided not to tell her. At all.
She was horribly sick for ten years without ever knowing why. And she died without ever knowing why.
I realize there may be people reading this who will think my grandmother’s doctor and husband did her a favor by sparing her pain and grief. My father is one of those people – when we talked about my maternal grandmother recently, he said he “could not find fault” in her husband’s decision to lie.
My grandmother was so afraid of death, after all. It was better for her not to know.
Welcome to paternalism.
You know what? Maybe my grandmother was happier overall than she would have been knowing her real diagnosis. But that was not her husband OR her doctor’s choice to make. It was not their body. It was not their life. It was not their choice.
It was her body, her life, her right to know.
But these men thought they knew what my grandmother needed better than she did. They thought they had the right – nay, the obligation – to control her life.
Let’s think about the very real consequences of their decision, shall we?
My grandmother could not make choices about her own medical care, since she did not know what her actual medical conditions were. Certain procedures must have been unavailable to her, since they would have forced doctors to reveal the secret (there aren’t a lot of reasons to get chemotherapy except cancer).
My grandmother could not make informed choices about how to live her life, since she did not know crucial facts ABOUT her life. She did not know she was living with a deadly illness. She did not know that her prognosis was severe; that doctors thought she would survive a few months or a year, at most. Maybe my grandmother would have made different choices. Maybe there were things she would have wanted to do. But she did not have the information necessary to make those choices. Tragically, she could not even decide how to prepare (or not prepare) her youngest daughter, who was a very young child when my grandmother was diagnosed.
And, although she did not know it, the lie made my grandmother utterly dependent on her husband and her doctor. They were now in complete control of her medical future. They could have chosen not to treat her. They could have chosen to use highly experimental drugs. Her husband could have withheld medication. He could have used his knowledge to manipulate her into making big financial decisions that she would not have made knowing her prognosis.
As far as I know – and I do not know a lot – the doctors and her husband did not abuse their power. I mean, except for the part where they lied to my grandmother for TEN YEARS. Other than that.
But they could have. From the time her doctor and her husband decided to lie to her, to the time she died, my grandmother did not have bodily autonomy. She could not control her own life, or her own body. Other people had that control.
My grandmother died of pancreatic and liver cancer two days before I was born.
Paternalism did not kill my grandmother. Cancer did. But paternalism took away my grandmother’s ability to make informed choices about her body and her life.
And this isn’t just a random horror story. It’s the dominant narrative of our past. Women and other minorities have not traditionally been allowed to control their own bodies. Their male relatives did. Their doctors did. The government did. Their owners did, in many cases. The US government sterilized mentally ill women and native women. Hospitals forced – and continue to force – women to undergo dangerous medical procedures without informing them, or seeking their consent. Hell, for over 30o years, black peoples in the United States were considered property.
It’s not just a historical horror story either. In Kansas, a law passed this year that allows doctors to lie to women about their pregnancies if they believe that the information might lead the woman to choose abortion.
Doctors can lie to their patients to stop them from getting abortions.
Bodily autonomy is not just about abortion. But there’s a reason people get so mad when our right to choose is threatened. We know that abortion is just the tip of the iceberg. We know bodily autonomy is not some kind of contingent thing where you can say “you control your body up to the uterus, but after that, it’s in the government hands.” We know what happened to us when our bodies were not under our control. And we’re not interested in going back.
I’m not particularly angry at my step-grandfather, or my grandmother’s doctors. I think what they did was disgusting and unethical, yes. And I’m rather grateful that I don’t have to interact with my step-grandfather. But I’m not that angry at them. I’m angry at the system that made it okay and normal for them to lie to my grandmother. I’m angry at a system that told them it was okay for them to take control of this woman’s body and life. And I’m angry that that system still exists. That we’re still fighting for the basic right to bodily autonomy today. In 2012.
People are allowed to control their own bodies. Women very often are not.
Rebecca West once said: Feminism is the radical notion that women are people. It’s a surprisingly radical notion.
Any comments that justify the decision to hide my grandmother’s illness from her will be mocked or banned. So will any that engage in victim-blaming by arguing that my grandmother “must” have figured it out. Maybe she did, maybe she didn’t. That’s not the point. Of any comments that talk about how difficult it must have been for her husband to hide the truth from her will? Yeah, it was probably hard. You know what would have made it easier? TELLING HER THE TRUTH.
Comment with care
Psst! You! Readers! is CD around?
No? Oh, FANTASTIC. I’m just going to let myself in, then! You guys don’t mind if I take over blogging duties for the day, right? Right!
Yes, yes, it’s me. The Feminist Batwoman. Champion of Intersectional Feminism and Enemy of Restrictive Gender Roles!
I know. Very exciting. I keep meaning to drop in and blog, but C.D. is kinda paranoid, and she doesn’t want me around. Something about the police putting her in jail for
being harboring a vigilante blah blah blah.
Also, she’s convinced that people think SHE’S the Feminist Batwoman. Which is obviously not true. CD and I have actually never met! How can we be the same person if we’ve never met!
Anyway. I think the problem with C.D. is that she just doesn’t have trust. I mean, I love that woman, but… seriously. You guys aren’t going to turn me in, right? I’m the Feminist Batwoman! I fight for Intersectional Feminism and Gender Equality Throughout the Shadows of the Interwebs.
AND I have a fabulous mask. Why would anyone turn me in?
See what I mean about the fabulous mask?
So now that we’ve established that you aren’t going to turn me in, let’s turn back to CD.
Have you guys noticed that she’s a bit… off, recently? She keeps writing about all this UBER-depressing stuff, and going on long rants and freakouts. Now, as the Feminist Batwoman, I fully support long rants and freakouts, but…
I’m worried that CD has lost her joy.
I mean – did you SEE what happened two weeks ago? The American Election? SHE SHOULD BE OVER THE MOON ABOUT THAT! She should be blogging kitten GIFs and celebratory confetti and explosions ALL THE TIME.
The activist joy should be EVERYWHERE!
So, you know. I thought I would cheer up CD (and bring on the return of the Kitten GIFS!) by reminding her of all of our Great Victories this month.
Maybe if CD remembers all the happy things that happened, she’ll be happier! Can’t hurt, right?
Let’s start at the top:
#1: Mitt Romney, oppressive douchebag and plutocrat supreme… Defeated!
I will not have to spend the next four years tracking down and defeating his Legion of Anti-Roe judges! I will not have to fight his attempts to turn over Obamacare and get us in more wars and cut the budget for food stamps and medicare and medicaid and social security and education. And hey, we won’t have to deal with his racism and sexism and homophobia and transphobia and classicism and general… barfiness.
My costume is already SUFFICIENTLY covered in the Barf of Oppression just from fighting to defeat Mitt Romney’s campaign. I’ve had to go to the dry cleaners ten times this election cycle. They’re giving me REALLY weird looks.
Imagine what I would look like if he were president. *shudder*
2. President Obama (a somewhat too-conservative-for-my-taste but generally pretty-decent- president) won. And President Obama is someone I can work with. He’s the man who brought us Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan and Obamacare and who ended Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and who passed the mini-dream act. He saved the economy and made insurance companies cover contraceptives and signed the Lilly Ledbetter fair pay law. He passed a bill that made it a hate-crime to commit an assault on someone based on their sexual orientation; he extended employment benefits to same-sex partners of federal employees and he became the FIRST SITTING US PRESIDENT to come out in favor of marriage equality. Oh, and he extended health insurance to four million uninsured kids (why, in the name of the Holy Batmobile, do we have FOUR MILLION uninsured kids in the richest country in the world? QUESTIONS).
Like I said. I can work with this guy.
All good news so far, right? All news that should make CD happy, right?
It gets better.
3. In Maryland, Maine and Washington, people voted to legalize same-sex marriage. YES THEY DID. We broke the 32-state losing streak (including a loss in my – I MEAN CD’s – home state of Wisconsin) with a three state victory! We finally got a popular victory for same-sex marriage!
(although I object to people’s fundamental human rights being put on the ballot, but if they’re going to be put on the ballot, this is the desired outcome)
Moreover, Minnesota had an amendment on the ballot that would have defined marriage as between one man and one woman. You know what happened? Voters said NO. AGAIN FOR THE FIRST TIME
I’d like to take this opportunity to congratulate my fellow Anti-Oppression Superhero Alliance member, The Queer Question (also known as Renee Montoya), who led the charge in the fight for same-sex marriage. The Question knows how to stop the Forces of Oppression, y’all.
Has CD cheered up by now? If she hasn’t, I have even MORE good news for her (because this election is just the gift that keeps on giving).
4. The next American congress will have the highest number of female senators in recorded history: twenty
(which: it is super-gross that 20 is a HIGH number of women in the senate. But we’re getting better).
And let’s talk about those women! Because it’s not just that we’ve got more women senators and representatives – it’s that the ones we’ve got are incredible.
Elizabeth Warren won a senate seat in Massachusetts. I’m quite fond of that woman. She scares Wall Street half-to-death, and is already fighting the Forces of Economic Oppression. Go Warren!
Tammy Baldwin WON A SENATE SEAT in Wisconsin! Tammy Baldwin is now Wisconsin’s first female senator – and the first openly gay member of the senate in US HISTORY.
I’m a huge fan of Tammy Baldwin’s. She’s been
my CD’s representative for years (since I’m CD is from Madison). Her work in the House was incredible; and I fully expect great things in the Senate.
CD, of course, was terrified that Tammy Baldwin – an openly gay woman from the hellmouth of hippie-liberalville (Madison) would have no chance of being elected in Wisconsin. And I do like proving CD wrong.
Claire McCaskill defeated Todd Akin (aka: “Mr. Legitimate Rape”). She won the Mississippi Senate seat – one that almost NO ONE thought a democrat could hang onto – by fourteen points. Because she is an incredible campaigner and she knew how to let Todd Akin hang himself by his own rope.
And to cap off our list of amazing women senators, Mazie Hirono won Hawaii’s open senate seat, thus making history as the USA’S first Asian American female senator. Whoo!
My good friend and fellow Anti-Oppression Superhero, the Anti-Racist Black Bat (Cassandra Cain) (who happens to be one of the few Asian members of the DC Universe) is REALLY excited about Mazi Hirono’s election.
Cassandra is also rather pissed that it took until 2012 for an Asian-American woman to be elected to the Senate.
The fun doesn’t even stop with senators! The great state of Illinois elected Tammy Duckworth to the House of Representatives. Duckworth served in the Iraq war, where she lost both legs. She is the first female war veteran with disabilities elected to the US House of Representatives.
You will not be surprised to know that Disability Rights Oracle (Barbara Gordon) was thoroughly pleased by Duckworth’s election!
And the great State of Hawaii elected Tulsi Gabbard, another female war veteran – AND the first Hindu member of the US House of Representatives.
But the best part of this election – and yes, we haven’t even gotten to the best part yet – wasn’t just that a League of Awesome Women were elected.
5. It was that the League of Awesome Women (in conjunction with the Anti-Oppression Superheroes) defeated the Evil Alliance of Rape Apologists.
Senate candidate Richard “Rape Babies are a Gift From God” Mourdock? DEFEATED.
Senate candidate Todd “If It’s A Legitimate Rape, the Female Body has ways to Shut That Whole Thing Down” Akin? DEFEATED!
House candidate John “The Rape thing” Koster? DEFEATED.
House candidate Joe “‘there is no such exception as life of the mother” Walsh? DEFEATED. By the way, Mr. Walsh, if pregnancy can’t actually kill women, what happened to Savita Halappanavar?
Vice Presidential Candidate Paul “Rape is just another method of conception” Ryan? DEFEATED.
All congratulations are due to The Consent Culture Batgirl (Stephanie Brown) who took point in the Anti-Oppression Superhero Alliance’s battle with the Evil League of Rape Apologists. I think we can agree she did a pretty fabulous job, no?
So, overall, I think the forces of Anti-Oppression did pretty well this election cycle, no?
We defeated the forces of oppression and darkness and plutocracy! We brought down the Evil Alliance of Rape Apologists! We elected a swath of Awesome Women!
Its definitely party time at the Anti-Oppression Superhero Alliance Headquarters, if you know what I mean!
(No, I don’t mean an orgy. Get your minds out of the gutter).
Party! Party! Party!
And I totally think CD should join us in this great party of activist joy, don’t you? Now that she’s undoubtedly been cheered up by all our good news!
I mean, come on. We won! Time to stop moping and stop ranting and smell the Victory Flowers, no? Or else CD is going to go all Batman, and be angsty 99% of the time, and no one wants that, do they?
It’s time to bring the joy to CD, ANTI-OPPRESSION PARTY STYLE!
I’m just going to check CD’s agenda book and see when she’s got a free slot for the party, shall I? Then we can all persuade her to go.
Huh. Can’t find CD.’s agenda, but… there’s this blog post draft on CD’s computer. I’ll just go ahead and read it (Hey, I’M not Consent Culture Batgirl. Privacy is not my only priority. Also, CD and I are
the same person friends!)
Well, this blog post is disturbing.
And by disturbing, I mean:
Montana voters passed a state ballot measure that puts in place a parental notification law: any person under the age of 16 who seeks an abortion needs to notify their parents. A PARENTAL NOTIFICATION LAW?
Well, HOW COULD THAT POSSIBLY GO WRONG?
OH GREAT, and IT KEEPS GOING.
After helping to pass Texas’ abortion sonogram law, Texas State Senator Dan Patrick is trying to cut off Rural Texans’ access to abortion. Because there’s nothing Dan Patrick cares about more than controlling women’s personal medical decisions!
The head of the Maine Republican party thinks there was voter fraud, because “dozens’ of black people showed up to vote, and no one in rural Maine knows any black people! Mitt Romney says Obama won because he gave “gifts” to women, young people, Latinos etc. Paul Ryan blames the urban vote (*cough* people of color *cough*).
Okay, I know I was complaining that CD seems really pissed off these days? BUT THIS? THIS IS PISSING ME OFF ALL OVER AGAIN.
Scott Walker is trying to end same-day registration in Wisconsin, because the best way to follow up an election full of voter suppression is MORE voter suppression.
In Kansas, the city of Selina passed a proposition that overturns the city’s protections from discrimination for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people. The City of Hutchinson also overturned their city’s discrimination protections.
Proposition 35 passed in California. It raises the penalty for those convicted of sex trafficking to as high as life in prison, which SOUNDS great, until you figure out that survivor groups were against the proposition. Why? Because the bill conflates sex trafficking and sex work, which means that both sex workers and sex trafficking survivors could be penalized, put in jail, put on sex offender registries etc. The bill will probably have a much worse effect on sex workers and victims than it will on actual bad guys. Melissa Gira Grant wrote a smarter and longer analysis of the problems with Proposition 35.
… And Oklahoma passed a constitutional amendment that bans affirmative action practices in state government hiring, education and contracting. But that’s okay, because apparently they weren’t using affirmative action anyway! And it’s not like there’s institutional racism or sexism in the USA, because, as everyone knows, we live in a post-racist and sexist society.
… yeah, okay. Maybe there’s a reason CD is still angry. Hell, I’M ANGRY.
You know what? Victory party canceled. We can have a victory party later. I can use the streamers to tie up some misogynists. Kyriarchy-Blasting Wonder Woman can use the helium from the balloons to power her invisible jet. We can throw the confetti in the eyes of the racists.
CD’s right. Our activism isn’t over, not even after this victory. People are still being oppressive asshats. A woman’s ability to choose is still under fire. People of color are still being targetted. Homophobia is still ruining lives. Misogyny is still rampant.
Time to get back to work.
ANTI-OPPRESSION SUPERHERO ALLIANCE, ASSEMBLE!
Oh, uh – before I leave to go fight oppression, could you guys do me a favor?
Could you NOT tell CD that I was here?
Like, keep it all hush-hush?
Also, you really don’t have to mention that I changed my mind and actually, we can’t celebrate yet because there are so many other things wrong in the world we need to deal with.
She doesn’t need to know she was right. That woman is not a gracious winner.
Just keep it… quiet, is my point. Okay? Okay!
Great! I’ll be back soon, faithful readers! In the meantime, I will go forth into the Shadowy Corners of the Interwebs and Fight Against Restrictive Gender Roles and All the Other Forces of Oppression!
Until next time.
- Your Friendly Interweb Feminist Batwoman.
CD HERE. WHAT THE HELL DID YOU DO WITH MY BLOG, FEMINIST BATWOMAN?
… oh, fuck. I knew I shouldn’t have
had that half-glass of beer and put on the mask left my computer unattended. The Feminist Batwoman is devious. Super-devious. And in no way related to me. Ignore the shot of my shoulder in the last picture. That’s not my shoulder. I’m not the Feminist Batwoman. Yeah. I had nothing to do with this.
I need to change my passwords. AGAIN.
Anyway. Sorry about that, everyone. I’ll try to
stay away from the mask keep a better eye on my computer in the future.
Although I do agree with the Feminist Batwoman’s point. We did win a big victory this November, and we should celebrate. But we should remember that there’s still a war on. It’s not time to lay down our weapons yet.
As Consent Culture Batgirl always says:
- I’m not ready for this to be the end of the fight. There’s so much ground to cover still. More misogyny and racism and homophobia and ableism and transphobia and oppression to uncover and stop. A new, better society to build.
- What are you still fighting for?
- ETA 2: Okay, FINE, ONE CELEBRATORY KITTEN GIF. But only because of the marriage victories in Maryland, Maine and Washington and Minnesota. And because of Tammy Duckworth and Tammy Baldwin and Claire McCaskill and Elizabeth Warren and Maizie Hirono and Tulsi Gabbard.
Question: Let’s say your wife doesn’t want to get in the shower. So you grab her, pick her up, and shove her into the shower while she screams and yells for you to let go. For good measure, you pin her to the wall while she keeps screaming.
Is that abuse?
Not on Grey’s Anatomy, it isn’t!
[no, but seriously, it is abuse]
[It's also domestic violence]
I, uh – I can’t really believe I’m writing this post. Because, I mean, Grey’s Anatomy has done a lot of stupid stuff over the years but – surely – SURELY – they didn’t just portray domestic violence in a positive light? Surely that didn’t happen. Surely I was imagining it.
… No, wait, I didn’t. It actually happened.
The fuck is wrong with you, Grey’s Anatomy?
And yes, I know, I just admitted to watching Grey’s Anatomy. In my defense, I kind of gave up on it after the Ghost Sex season. Yes, I rewatched the first two seasons during my finals – but only because it reminded me that my life, though stressful, could be a lot worse.
It could be scripted by Shonda Rhimes.
But then this fall, my Romantic Interest (hereafter known as the Feminist Philosopher) got me to watch Grey’s Anatomy with him on a regular basis. And I will admit I’ve been enjoying it. Mostly in a “let’s point out how terrible this plot is” way. Or a “oh, that dialogue was just terrible” way. And sometimes in a “Cristina Yang is my spiritual guru and I will do whatever she tells me to do” way.
Intermingled with my love for Cristina Yang and my enjoyment of the terrible dialogue, however, is a slow-simmering outrage over the show’s treatment of the newly-disabled characters.
Quick recap: at the end of last season, a bunch of the doctors were in an airplane crash. Two of the principal characters – Lexie and Mark – died. Arizona Robbins’ leg was crushed, and later amputated against her wishes. Cristina Yang was diagnosed with reactive psychosis.
The way Grey’s Anatomy is dealing with Cristina and Arizona is killing me. KILLING me. It’s like they’ve got a bingo card of how NOT to write about disability, and they’re trying to check off EVERY SINGLE BOX.
For a while, I held it in. It was just a slow-simmering outrage, and a couple of rants. But Episode 3 (“Love the One You’re With”) officially pushed me over the top. The scene where Callie abuses her wife, Arizona and NO ONE CALLED IT OUT?
And it wasn’t a gross moment? It was a big “Oh, finally, Arizona will realize that her disability makes Callie unhappy too!” moment.
Yeah, that was the end of Ms. Nice Feminist.
NO MORE MS. NICE FEMINIST.
CALLIE ABUSED HER WIFE AND YOU MADE IT SEEM JUSTIFIED.
FUCK YOU GREY’S ANATOMY.
Okay. I’m calm. I’m totally calm. I can write this in a calm and mature manner.
Before we get to the problem of Arizona Robbins (who, let me remind you, was ASSAULTED BY HER WIFE), let’s start with the Case of My Spiritual Guru, Cristina Yang.
After the rescuers finally show up and save everyone, Cristina lapses into a catatonic state, punctuated with brief moments of rage and violence. Her doctors diagnose her with reactive psychosis.
Now, in a perfect world, Cristina’s friends and family would be like “Oh, yeah, she’s got a mental illness because she was in a plane crash and survived for a week with no food/water/medical help and she was keeping all these other people alive. Not super surprising. Let’s let her get the care she needs!
… And if you think that’s how things actually went down, I have a piece of the True Cross I’d like to sell you.
Here’s what actually happened. Cristina Yang is diagnosed with reactive psychosis, and then…
Cue scene where Owen (Cristina’s estranged husband) yells to the psych ward chief that he won’t let them take Cristina to the psyche ward. Cue scene where Owen – the chief of surgery – essentially prevents his wife from getting adequate medical care because he doesn’t want her to go to the psych ward. Cue scene where Meredith, Cristina’s best friend, grabs her by the shoulders and tells her to “snap out of it” because if Cristina doesn’t “snap out of it,” she’ll be put in the psych ward and “pumped full of anti-psychotics.’ Which is apparently the worst thing ever, since anti-psychotics will strip Cristina’s identity away (#NotActuallyHowAntiPsychoticsWorkMeredith) (#SeriouslyYouWentThroughMedSchoolAndYouDontKnowThis?)
Meredith and Owen fight tooth and claw to keep Cristina from going to the psych ward and getting psych treatment. Do you think they would fight to keep her out of the hospital if she’d gotten pneumonia? Would they be screaming at her and telling her if she didn’t “snap out of it,” she’d be pumped full of antibiotics and her personality would be totally changed?
Of course not.
This is gross on so many levels, I can’t even. As usual, mental illnesses are treated as if they’re The Worst Thing Ever, as opposed to, you know, just another set of illnesses. And Grey’s Anatomy acts like Cristina getting psychosis is the Worst Thing Ever.
Psychosis is the Worst Thing Ever, y’all! THE WORST THING EVER.
And going to the psych ward is the other Worst Thing Ever.
Meredith and Owen’s behavior reinforces the stigmatization of mental illness. PSYCHOSIS, OOOGA BOOOGA. Whereas Owen and Meredith would recognize that pneumonia is an illness, that catching pneumonia is not a person’s fault, and that a person with pneumonia needs TREATMENT, they act like mental illnesses are a character flaw. Psychosis is a stigma, a brand to be avoided at any cost. Cristina can just “snap out of it.” And if she goes to the psych ward and received proper, adequate treatment for her “condition,” she’ll officially be a “psychotic person” and that would be the Worst Thing Ever. Because mental illnesses are the worst thing ever blah blah blah.
Someone shoot me.
Mental illnesses are just that: illnesses. Like all other illnesses, they require treatment. And honestly, to deprive Cristina of treatment tailored to her illness because you don’t want her to go to the “psych ward” (OOOGA BOOOGA) and you don’t want her to take “anti-psychotics” is tantamount to medical abuse.
Grey’s Anatomy always makes a huge deal about ultra-religious parents who refuse to allow their child to get proper medical care. Don’t they realize they’re doing the same thing with Cristina?
(Well, of course not, because Mental Illnesses are different, and Cristina can’t be Psychotic GRAB THE FAINTING COUCH).
As a person with several mental illnesses, let me be the first to say “FUCK YOU, GREY’S ANATOMY.” You know what? I’ve been pretty close to catatonic in the super-severe phases of my depressions. I’ve never been put on anti-psychotics, but they were on the table, and they still are (some of them can be very helpful to managing depression. Who knew?). I’ve never been to a psych ward, but if things got bad enough, I would hope that the psych ward stigma wouldn’t be enough to keep me away.
The attitude the show – and Owen and Meredith – display towards mental illnesses is precisely the reason it took me twenty five minutes to type up the previous paragraph: because it is so fucking scary to come out as a person with mental illnesses. The attitude of “mental illnesses are the Worst Things Ever” and “mental illnesses mean you’re Crazy” do hurt people with actual mental illnesses. That attitude is part of the reason I was pushed by certain members of my family to keep my depression a secret and to get off anti-depressants as fast as possible (as opposed to when I was ready).
So yeah, FUCK YOU, GREY’S ANATOMY.Th
The show’s treatment of Cristina gets even worse in the scene where Owen (her estranged husband) takes her home and bathes her.
Ick. Ick, ick, ick, ick, ick.
Because Cristina and Owen were more or less estranged before the plane crash. So Cristina’s estranged husband managing her entire life, bathing her, controlling her, while Cristina herself is still catatonic and unable to give consent? Cristina’s estranged husband discussing, in vivid detail, how the rest of Cristina’s life will go? Cristina’s estranged husband deciding what kind of medical treatment she’ll get (or won’t get)?
Cristina and Owen are no longer in a relationship where there’s some kind of consent implied for these big, major medical decisions. She never gave consent for him to take care of her, and she can’t do it now, since she can’t talk. So yeah, in this context, it is really gross that Owen basically takes control of her entire life.
The worst part is that the bathing scene is meant to be romantic and loving. Oooh, look at Owen, standing by his catatonic woman, taking care of her, isn’t he the Bestest?
No… he’s not. Bodily autonomy and consent is a thing. You don’t lose it when you go through mental or physical illnesses.
And also, using a person’s illness and/or disability to prove how generous and self-sacrificing YOU are is suuuuuper-gross. Don’t do it. Ever.
Which, fittingly, brings me to the case of Arizona Robbins.
Reminder of Arizona’s condition: her leg was amputated shortly after she was rescued from the plane crash. Although Arizona did not want her leg amputated, at some point she started dying and was unable to give consent for medical procedures, so her wife (and doctor) Callie gave consent to an amputation.
(Question one: why is Callie, Arizona’s WIFE, her doctor? Oh, never mind, this is Grey’s Anatomy where that sort of thing is TOTALLY okay)
Post-amputation, Arizona is super-pissed at Callie for deciding to go ahead with the surgery without Arizona’s condition. She’s also unhappy and depressed and generally in a state of rage over losing her leg.
Now, I will gladly admit that Arizona has not been a particularly pleasant person in the wake of the crash and losing her leg. I would also like to point out that there’s no “right” way to react to severe trauma, and Arizona is not a bad person for not being all smiles and rainbows post-amputation. You cannot control the way you feel.
Hell, I don’t even think there’s anything wrong with Callie being upset and angry and sad at Arizona. You can’t control the way you feel; Callie is not a bad person for having normal human emotions.
But if you can’t control the way you feel, you can, however, control how you ACT on your feelings.
Cue the end of Episode 3. Callie comes home to find Arizona has left her wheelchair. Arizona apparently tried to go to the bathroom without help, but collapsed and urinated on herself.
Callie orders Arizona to take a shower. Arizona refuses.
Okay, yes, Arizona is being a bit silly. Then again, Arizona has just discovered, for what must be the 90th time, that she can’t do even the simplest tasks on her own anymore. And she’s coming to terms with the fact that she’s going to go through a long, hard process of rehabilitation and relearning her body. That’s not something “easy” to go through. It’s not something most people can just “get over.”
But you know what? Even if Arizona’s behavior had been completely unjustified, there is still NO EXCUSE for what Callie did next.
Arizona refuses to take the shower.
Callie picks her up and shoves her into the shower. Arizona screams for Callie to let her go, and get out; Callie slams Arizona against the shower wall and holds her there while Arizona keeps screaming.
DOMESTIC ABUSE. DOMESTIC ABUSE. DOMESTIC ABUSE.
And yes, Callie is super-emotional and crying. And yes, Callie yells “There’s nowhere for me to go; this is my life now too!”
BUT IT’S STILL DOMESTIC ABUSE.
Least you think I’m exaggerating about the violence of the scene, see for yourself. And this, by the way, is AFTER the grabbing and shoving:
Sadly, because I am female and I grew up in the USA, I only believed my own conclusions about the Super-Gross-Abuse-Scene-Of-Doom AFTER a person of the male gender independently came to the same conclusion. Fortunately, I happened to have a person of the male gender sitting right next to me when the Super-Gross scene happened:
The Feminist Philosopher paused the video and turned to me.
Feminist Philosopher: Well. That just happened.”
Me: “Uh, yeah. You saw the same thing I did.”
Feminist Philosopher: “Callie assaulting Arizona? Yup. Suuuper gross.
So yeah, it’s not just Team Culturally Disoriented Seeing Things over here. Hell, I don’t understand why anyone – anyone – would look at this scene and not go “Jesus H. Christ, what the hell is going on here.”
Hey, I’ll tell you what the hell is going on:
CALLIE ABUSED ARIZONA.
And no one has called it. Not on the show, not – as far as I can tell – in the world of the internet.
So I’m calling it now: Callie Torres physically abused Arizona Robbins. It happened. It is domestic violence.
This is not a “normal” couples argument. This is not okay. This is abuse.
Okay, I can hear the critics now. What does this scene – gross as it was – have to do with disability? Callie’s treatment of Arizona is abuse regardless of Arizona’s condition, right?
If we unpack the scene a bit more, however, it’s pretty clear that Callie’s actions are intimately connected to the show’s attitude towards disability.
There’s a reason why this scene isn’t played as domestic violence. There’s a reason it’s framed to make Callie seem “justified.”
Indeed, from the first episode of the new season, Arizona’s disability has been framed in terms of its effect on Callie’s life. It’s about Callie’s feelings. Callie’s sadness. Callie’s struggles. Callie’s torment. Callie’s guilt. Hell, we don’t even SEE Arizona in the first episode – until we discover she’s lost her leg.
And we don’t see her much in the next few episodes – except when she’s interacting with Callie.
Then we get this beautifully revolting scene in Episode 2, where Callie tells Owen that “the person in that bed” isn’t Arizona, but just a shell of a person with all of Arizona removed. Callie says she thinks that if Arizona loses her leg, Callie will never get Arizona back again.
And Owen then says he doesn’t think he’ll ever get Cristina – his still-catatonic wife – back.
Let’s just back up and look at how Owen and Callie have taken their significant others’ Huge Illnesses and made it All About Them.
We need to save Arizona’s leg so Callie gets her back. We need to make Cristina un-psychotic so Owen gets her back.
Wow, I never realized that when people suffer through traumatic illnesses and injuries, their experiences don’t matter at all! It’s All About The People Around Them!
I’m learning so many new things from this show.
Look, being the partner/friend/significant other/family of a disabled or chronically ill person is not easy. And those people deserve support and help and sympathy. My problem isn’t that Grey’s Anatomy showcases Owen and Callie’s emotional meltdowns. My problem is that the show does it AT THE EXPENSE of Arizona and Cristina.
Despite the fact that Arizona and Cristina are the ones actually dealing with trauma and disabilities, their stories are secondary. Their emotions are far less important than those of Callie and Owen’s. The show centers on Callie and Owen’s sadness at their wives’ illnesses/disability, and on how generous Callie/Owen are to stick with them.
Arizona is relegated to the role of a symbol. She’s not important for herself, but for what she represents – Callie’s tragedy, Callie’s sacrifice, Callie’s generosity, Callie’s emotional struggles.
Hell, Arizona isn’t even able to define herself anymore – it’s Callie who decides that Arizona is “not her wife” anymore, but just a person with all the Arizona scraped out. How Arizona feels, we don’t know.
The show’s writers took Arizona’s voice away and made her silent in her own tragedy.
And what does Callie yell to her wife as she’s pushing her into the shower? Why does she think it’s okay for her to abuse Arizona?
“This is my life now too!”
This is my life now too.
It’s not Arizona’s life anymore. It’s Callie’s. By virtue of Arizona’s disability, she has become less of a person. She’s been relegated to the symbolic.
You know what? This is not Callie’s life. It’s not. Arizona’s life is Arizona’s life. Arizona’s body is her body.
If Callie can’t handle Arizona’s behavior, she can try to have an honest conversation with her. She can go to therapy. You know what? If it’s too much for Callie to deal with, CALLIE CAN LEAVE ARIZONA. She can divorce her. Callie has somewhere else to go. She has a choice. She’s choosing to stay with Arizona.
Arizona, on the other hand, really does have nowhere else to go. She can’t just “leave’ her body when she gets sick of it. This is her reality. This is her life. This is her body.
It’s not Callie’s.
I don’t mean to diminish Callie’s very real pain, or Arizona’s very real vitriol over the past few episodes. But I’m sick of illness and disability being portrayed as “harder” on the family/friends/whatever than on the person experiencing them. I’m sick of shows using disability as a way to show OTHER characters’ emotional struggles and generosity.
I’m sick of narratives that tell us that people with disabilities are less-than-human, that they’re just a broken version of a more perfect person. I’m sick of narratives where Meredith get to say that treatment for a mental illness will strip your identity away. Where Callie gets to say that her wife’s accident has made her “not-Arizona.”
Hell, I’m not even sure why I’m so surprised by this. Grey’s Anatomy has always treated illness and disability as symbols. In the show, the disabled body is nothing more than a shiny toy for doctors to have fun with. People with disabilities are only important insofar as they are symbols. They’re not people.
People with disabilities are not broken. We are not symbols. We are people.
Screw you, Grey’s Anatomy.
The worst part of the abuse – and yes, we have only just now gotten to the worst part – is that its for Arizona’s own good. Supposedly.
In Callie’s Super-Important Surgical Case (right before the Shower Scene), her underage patient wants to run off and complete a sailing competition even though it’ll mean losing her leg. Callie tells the patient’s parents that they need to stop her. They need to be her parents. They need to be “the bad guy” so they can save their daughter.
And, of course, because this is Grey’s Anatomy and Grey’s Anatomy has the subtlety of a GIANT SLEDGEHAMMER, Callie’s case is a metaphor for her personal life, and how she needs to be the “bad guy” with Arizona.
In this little equation, Arizona has been transformed into a child. A child. And Callie is her PARENT.
The whole “people with disabilities are just like children” meme has been well-overplayed. Don’t think I didn’t notice the infantilization of Arizona. Don’t think I didn’t notice that she peed on herself (childhood!) and had to be cleaned by her wife/parent (infantilizing!). Don’t think I didn’t notice that you did exactly the same thing with Cristina in the scene where she’s being bathed by Owen (infantalizing!)
Disabled people are not children. We’re not, thank you very much.
And Arizona is not a child. Arizona is a grown-ass woman. Losing her leg does not mean she lost her right to control her own life. Her body is hers. Her life is hers. You do not get to choose what she does with them, even if you think she’s hurting herself.
You cannot control adults’ lives for their own good. You cannot shove your wife into a shower for her own good (you can’t do that to your kid either, actually, because that too is abuse). You cannot take your estranged wife back to your house without her permission and give her a bath (yes, I’m back to Cristina). You cannot choose your estranged wife’s psychological treatment.
That is abuse.
Look, I get it. You see sick people, hurt people, you want to help them. They say no. You say “it’s for your own good.”
But that’s NOT OKAY. You cannot help people without their consent. You cannot force people to do things “for their own good.”
Not after they’re 18 anyway.
Look, this isn’t some kind of fringe issue. People with disabilities are up to four times more likely than abled people to be abused by partners or caretakers. Four times. And part of the reason they’re more likely to be abused – and less likely to seek help (or to get it when they go to the authorities) – is because of stupid narratives like these.
Narratives that emphasize the pain and the generosity of the caregivers and the partners at the expense of the actual people with disabilities. Narratives that portray people with disabilities as children. Narratives that portray abuse as something done for the person’s own good.
Who would ever believe that a woman so generous and selfless that she would stay married to a cripple would commit an act of domestic violence? It wasn’t abuse! It was for Arizona’s own good.
Fuck you very much, Grey’s Anatomy.
Callie abused Arizona.
You showed it as something good and romantic and cathartic.
Fuck you, Grey’s Anatomy.
Arizona and Cristina are not symbols. They’re not tragic parts of other peoples’ lives. They’re not children. They’re not broken. They’re people with real pain and real lives and real stories. So please start treating them that way.
And please don’t give me any Arizona/Callie scenes for another few weeks. I honestly can’t look at Callie without wanting to call the Seattle cops. SHE ABUSED HER WIFE. Send her to therapy.
As a final note: CALLIE ABUSED HER WIFE.
Just say that over and over to yourself until it sinks in.
*In order to thank the Feminist Philosopher, who re-introduced me to Grey’s Anatomy AND who was kind enough to let me rant at him for a REALLY long time without ever telling me that I was exaggerating or that I should calm down… I will finish this blog by saying: FUCK YOU, DAVID BROOKS.
**ALSO, if you are in the Montreal area, you should go see the play Inherit the Wind, which is going up at McGill Player’s Theater, November 14-17 & 21-24, 8:00 PM. GO SEE IT. I saw it last night, and my reaction was something like this:
It was pretty damn near perfection. And I’m not just saying that because I know a lot of the people in it and I baked cookies for their bake sale (if I hated it, I would just NOT TALK ABOUT IT on the blog).
GO SEE IT.
oh, here’s a review.
Before I begin this blog post, I need a moment for prayer.
Please, please, Cylon Jesus, please let this be the last blog post I ever publish about Mitt Romney. Please let this be the last blog post I ever have to write about Mitt Romney, Cylon Jesus. In other words, please make sure Mitt Romney loses the American election and I never ever hear about him again.
Please Cylon Jesus.
It’s my birthday soon, Cylon Jesus. Very soon. You wanna give me a present?
No more Mitt Romney.
That’s all I want, Cylon Jesus.
Well, that and a pony.
(take care of the Romney problem first, Cylon Jesus, okay, though? #IHavePriorities)
Okay, back to Mitt Romney.
A couple weeks ago, I got in a facebook argument on a friend’s wall. My Awesome Friend had posted an article explaining that Mitt Romney’s 47% speech included a racist dog-whistle (or ninety).
Another facebook dweller (henceforth known as of Acquaintance) was not convinced that Romney’s remarks had elements of racism. We had a nice productive facebook argument about that, and at some point, Acquaintance concedes that yes, Romney’s remarks were probably racist.
So far so good, right?
BUT THEN, Acquaintance goes (and I’m grossly paraphrasing) “Well, okay, maybe it’s racist, but we don’t need to call out the racism. Critiques of Romney’s remarks based on classism are sufficient.”
To be fair to Acquaintance, he’s not the only person guilty of such argumentative doltishness. I’m sure you’ve heard variations of this theme before.
It’s the “yes, okay, Republicans are attacking gay rights, and that’s terrifically sad, but we can’t talk about that, because it’s divisive! And we don’t want to alienate any of our supporters.” argument. Or the argument of: “well, yes, all those anti-welfare advertisements Romney’s campaign is running are highly racist. BUT it only helps Romney if we accuse him of being racist, because then they’ll say we’re playing the race card.”
Or: “Sure, Republicans are talking about taking away a woman’s right to birth control/abortion/her own body. But that’s controversial, so we can’t talk about it.”
So. With a little less than a week left before the election, let’s clear things up.
You know why you should call Romney out for being a racist? Or a sexist? or a homophobe? Or a terribly oppressive douchecanoe?
Because when Romney’s a racist, or a sexist, or a homophobe, he’s attacking PEOPLE. PEOPLE. REAL PEOPLE.
POC and women and queer peoples are PEOPLE. They’re PEOPLE. And when they’re getting thrown under the motherfucking bus by a bunch of asswipe politicians, you STAND UP.
For crying out loud.
When you say racism isn’t important enough to call out, you’re tacitly saying that POC aren’t important enough to defend.
When you refuse to call out the war on women’s bodily autonomy, you’re basically saying that women aren’t important enough to stand up for.
When you let Karl Rove and his minions play the “Ooooh, scary gay people” game without saying anything back, you’re throwing queer people overboard and letting them swim with the sharks by themselves.
I’m white. I have white privilege. I don’t honestly know what it’s like to be a POC and to hear Romney’s racist dog-whistles. And I don’t want to appropriate that conversation. You should read these awesome links instead (they’re a great starting point for understanding the DEGREE to which racist rhetoric has invaded Romney’s speech)
I am a woman, however, and I do know what it’s like to hear politicians talking about taking away my birth control; my right to an abortion. I do know what it’s like to hear men – men who control our country’s policy – say things like “legitimate rape” and “forcible rape.” I know what it’s like hearing that a pregnancy resulting from rape is a “gift from God.”
This is my body they’re talking about. My right to control my own body.
Fuck, it’s terrifying.
I can’t imagine it’s any easier to be a POC listening to Romney’s racist rhetoric.
My point, here it is: This isn’t dinner theater. These are people’s LIVES.
Racism, misogyny, homophobia (to name the big three) kill people. Yes, in the United States. Yes, in Canada. And when they don’t kill you, they still force you to live a life full of micro-aggressions and oppression.
Or they just make you live a life of misery and terror. [ask me about living a life full of misery and terror! I am a woman living in rape culture. I'm a fucking expert!]
When politicians use racism, or sexism, or homophobia, or any kind of oppression in order to gain political points, they’re basically saying that oppressed peoples matter so little that politicians can use their lives as political footballs.
Women’s rights to their bodies are not a political football. The right of POC to be treated with respect and without bigotry is not a political football.
It’s not a game.
And when we don’t call them out, we’re tacitly agreeing. it’s okay if women/POC/queers/minorities are batted around like catnip in front of a kitten! It just doesn’t matter that much.
No, it matters.
And it’s not about Romney. I get that people are like “well, he’s a gross asshole in nearly every way, so we really don’t need to list every horrible thing he does.” I get people who say “well, no matter what we say, he’s never going to stop being an oppressive douchecanoe.”
(which: Fair. I don’t think there’s much that’ll make Romney stop being an oppressive douchecanoe)
But it’s not about Romney. It’s about the people he’s attacking in his attempt to win the Presidency.
You don’t call Romney out because you think Romney will magically learn not to be an oppressive douchecanoe. You call him out because you think the rights of oppressed minorities are worth standing up for. You call him out because you don’t believe in leaving people out in the shark-infested water, getting attacked by a bunch of cynical politicians.
You call him out because it matters to me, damn it, as one of those people being attacked, to hear others supporting my rights. To know that I’m not alone. That someone will fight alongside me.
It’s not about Romney.
And it’s not just about douchebags like Romney either. I think most people who read this blog are progressive or liberal (or else you’d already be sending me hate mail), and it’s pretty easy for progressive, liberal people to go “Oh, yeah, Romney, that racist asshat, I can call him out!”
It’s a lot harder when it’s your heroes. It’s a lot harder when it’s your allies.
I’m thinking of Bill Maher, misogynist supreme, and comedic hero of much of the left. We can’t call him out! He’s on our side!
(no, you really can call him out. And you should)
I’m thinking of Hugo Schwyer, feminist hero. A man who has admitted to having raped a woman and tried to kill his girlfriend. A man who has harassed and dismissed women of color in the feminist movement. A man that many Big Name Feminist still defend. We can’t call him out! He’s a male feminist! Also, calling him out is divisive to the feminist community!
(no, you really can call him out. Also, you should SHUN HIM).
I’m thinking of feminists who ignore women of color, or who act like WOC’s concerns are something to take care of “later.” Or who are blatantly racist and who STILL don’t get called out, because the feminist movement is often REALLY SHITTY about the rights and issues of anyone who isn’t a middle-class western cisgendered straight white woman.
Yes, I love feminism. Yes, it’s one of the great axis around which my life turns.
But that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t call feminist out when they exclude women of color, or when they’re racist. No, I should.
Hell, I’m even thinking of myself. I’m a huge bundle of privilege, and I’m still very much in the “screwing up” stage of anti-oppression work. And you know what? If I say oppressive stuff, or write oppressive stuff, or blog oppressive stuff, or if I’m being problematic?
I would take it as a MASSIVE favor if you would call me out. Sure, I’ll feel defensive for 30 seconds, and then I’ll get my head on straight. Other peoples’ right not to be oppressed is more important than my ability to feel comfortable in my discourse.
Now, look. There are good and valid reasons not to call people out.
First, calling people out takes a fuckmetric ton of energy (Fuckmetric tons: scientific measurement right there). It’s not easy. And a lot of times, it’s not safe either.
There are many circumstances where I don’t feel safe calling people out. One easy example: I don’t feel safe yelling at street harassers.
What if they turned on me? What if they hurt me?
There are also circumstances where I’m just too tired to call people out, especially when it’s about something that personally affects me (sexism, stigmatization of mental health issues etc). It’s emotionally exhausting, having to argue for your right to exist, and to be treated with respect.
Sometimes, I just can’t handle it.
So I pick my battles.
The other major reason not to call people out is when you might be appropriating someone else’s fight or adding to oppression. This especially applies to allies.
Be aware of the fact that in many spaces, your voice may be more privileged just by dint of the body you inhabit. Men have more privileged voices than women. White people have more privileged voices than people of color. You want to be sure that your calling people out isn’t, by dint of your privilege, excluding or disempowering the people you want to support.
(random example of me screwing this one up: this weekend, I got in another facebook argument, this time about the importance of Andrew Ti. I waded in to support my friend, who is a woman of color (I’m white). The white dude in the argument dismissed my friend as childish and hysterical. On the other hand, he listened to me and CHANGED HIS MIND. Least you ask, my friend and I were making almost exactly THE SAME ARGUMENT. Word for fucking word. So yeah, my attempt to support a friend turned into another instance of “let’s disempower the woman of color.” Yeah, I screwed that one up)
[also, if you're not already reading Yo is This Racist? You should be.]
So yes, absolutely, there are good reasons not to call people out. But if you’re safe and secure and you know you’re not disempowering other people (except the racists – I fully believe in disempowering racists)?
And you choose not to do it, because of you just can’t be bothered?
Then dude, you suck.
Now, I’m not saying your suckiness is a permanent state. Let us note that I’ve been pretty damn terrible in my life at calling people out.
Yes, I suck!
But I’m working on it.
Call people out, everyone. NOT JUST MITT ROMNEY EITHER.
(Also, Cylon Jesus, if it isn’t too much to ask, I’d love to have my birthday night free of homework and stuff. No? Not possible? Okay, thanks for trying).
(hey, do you guys like the new blog design? I’m obsessed. Now with 100% more rose-red pink! And more feminist Batwoman!)
Interesting thing you might not know about me: I often think in colors. In my head, for example, Jane Austen’s Emma is saffron-red (while Pride and Prejudice is yolk-yellow). English literature as a subject is a foggy blue. My first year of middle school in France evokes orange tones. My Future Wife makes me think of purples and browns.
And sexual harassment is bright lime-green and noodle-yellow.
Okay, I get that was a bit of a random tangent. Everyone’s very confused. Everyone’s all “Uh, C.D., why is sexual harassment lime-green and noodle-yellow in the bizarre color-lexicon of your brain?”
Faithful reader, I will tell you. You see, a year ago, I got a summer job as a waitress/cashier/garnisher/busser/whatever at a local Noodles and Company.
You will note the presence of green! There are a lot of green decorations and signs and things at Noodle and Company. Also a lot of yellow, what with the omnipresence of noodles.
So when I think of Noodles and Company, I think of green and yellow.
… I see you using that deductive reasoning, dear reader! You are thinking “C.D. says sexual harassment makes her think of yellow and green, and Noodles and Company was yellow and green, so she must have been sexually harassed at Noodles and Company! LOGIC.”
And hey, if that was your thought process, you’d be right! I was sexually harassed at Noodles and Company, and that is why I associate yellow and green with sexual harassment!
The summer-before-last, your faithful blogger (me) got a job at Noodles and Company, where she pulled long hell-shifts of doom (eight hours behind a cash register… one fifteen minute break… blaaaargh) and got paid a ridiculously small amount of money.
But hey, I have to admit, I enjoyed the work. If the pay hadn’t been so terrible, I would go so far as to say I enjoyed the experience.
Well, okay. That’s not strictly accurate. I would have enjoyed the job if:
a) the pay had been better and
b) I had not been confronted with The Gentlemen Groper
I didn’t particularly like the Gentleman Groper. In fact, I rather loathed him. He didn’t do his job; he avoided managers; he was rude to customers; he made inappropriate jokes; he made life more difficult for everyone on his shift.
I was not a fan.
But whatever. I gritted my teeth and indulged in fantasies of chopping him up into noodle-garnish, meanwhile reminding myself that he was only seventeen, and that he might – MIGHT – eventually get over it.
And then he started poking me.
Sadly, I’m not talking a casual, one-time, “Hey, look at the giant Elephant eating the kangaroo over there!” poke.
The Gentlemen Groper (who should really be called The Gentlemen Poker, but that would ruin the alliteration) usually targeted my waist, my torso or my arms. His charming technique was to poke me until I yelped, and then giggle.
And he would not stop.
I’m not kidding, he would do this like, five or six times an hour. It was ridiculous (it also meant he wasn’t doing his job, which meant *I* was doing his job… all while getting poked).
Because all terrible things must get worst, the poking evolved.
After a few days, any time there was an excuse to touch me, the Gentlemen Groper took it. Dish to garnish? He grabbed my wrist to correct my sprinkling technique. Customer to talk to? He’d steer me towards them by grabbing my waist, even when I pushed him away. A break in the customer madness? Then it was time for spontaneous hugs! Eventually, he started pinching my arms and “accidentally” brushing against my breasts and ass.
And the poking continued.
Now, in “real life,” – in situations where I can’t get fired for punching people – things might have ended rather painfully for the Gentlemen Groper.
Because I am the Feminist Batwoman, and All Shall Fear My Wrath.
But I was at work, where stepping on The Gentlemen Groper’s foot or pinching the nerves in his forearms would not go over well. [hey, I knew a lot about self-defense. Where do you think I got these mad batwoman skillz from?)
So I tried a different technique:
"Please stop touching me."
"Gentlemen Groper, stop poking me."
"Listen to what I am saying to you. You need to stop touching me."
"I don't want you to hug me. Don't hug me."
"Don't grab my arm, Gentlemen Groper."
"Stop. Touching. Me."
"You do not have my permission to touch me."
"Gentlemen Groper, I'm not kidding. Stop touching me."
"Don't poke me."
I kept my voice low and serious. I refused to laugh. I did everything the textbooks on harassment say to do: I was clear, concise and forceful. And I'm pretty sure I used every variation on "stop" in the book.
None of them worked. The Gentlemen Groper would just laugh, and accuse me of being oversensitive. A few minutes later, he'd touch me again, and I'd suppress the urge to scream.
I told my friends and parents about the harassment. They were all supportive, especially my mother (who offered to come to the store and threaten the Gentlemen Groper with the force of her awesomeness), but at some point in our conversation, she said what I’d dreaded hearing ever since the harassment started:
“You know, maybe he’s just really bad at flirting.”
There is a difference between harassment and flirting. I don’t care how terrible you are at flirting, the words “no” and”stop” always, always, ALWAYS mean STOP. And if you refuse to stop, then it’s not flirting anymore.
But even if I knew my mother was wrong, there was a reason I’d been dreading the flirting line. I was afraid. I was afraid that my supervisors wouldn’t see the Gentlemen Groper’s behavior as harassment. Or that my harassment wasn’t bad enough to “count” as real. That it would just be interpreted as harmless flirtation. That I would be accused of making waves for no reason.
So I didn’t ask to file a harassment form.
Instead, I started having minor panic attacks every time anyone came near me at my job. I was tense for entire shifts, waiting for the pokes and gropes and hugs that (inevitably) came. When work was done, I noticed that my muscles were actually sore with pain because I’d been holding them tight for so long. I approached shifts with the Gentlemen Groper by putting on tunnel-vision glasses so I couldn’t concentrate on anything but my job and the words I would (inevitably) need: “Stop.” “Don’t touch me.”
I used to love closing the restaurant; now, I hated working late at night. Closing shifts meant there was no one in the store except me, the Gentlemen Groper, and a manager. No witnesses. Worse was all the space between me and my bike, out in a dark parking lot with no one around. If the Gentlemen Groper wouldn’t stop touching me in public, what would he do in private, at night, where no one could see? How far would he go?
Once I got on the bike, though, I felt safe – finally. I’m a fairly fast rider at the best of times, but fear of the Gentlemen Groper made me exponentially faster.
I was safe.
Until the next shift.
There was a point when I actually started timing how long it took for me to get from the restaurant door to my bike.
That’s when I knew I was terrified.
That’s when I knew something had to be done. This was not okay. I couldn’t go through more shifts of constantly being touched. I couldn’t go through more shifts of wondering if things would get worse. I needed to do something.
Unfortunately, I was still too scared to file an official harassment report. So I did the next best thing. I started making a point of saying “No,” in front of managers. That way, I thought, they’d see what was happening, and they would back me up.
Oooh boy, was I wrong.
My new strategy worked about as well as my old one. I made sure to stick around the managers, so they wouldn’t be able to miss the Gentlemen Groper’s actions. Then Gentlemen Groper would poke me, or grab me, and I’d say “Gentlemen Groper, I’ve said this a hundred times. You need to stop touching me.”
I’d steal a glance at the managers to make sure they’d heard me. They had.
But they didn’t back me up.
Most of the managers said nothing, either to me or to the Gentlemen Groper. Worse, some of them encouraged him.
Once, when I told the Gentlemen Groper I didn’t like being touched, a manager started laughing, telling the Gentlemen Groper I was playing “hard to get.”
After another poking incident, the Gentlemen Groper said: “I just poke you because I like you!”
To which a manager near us said: “Bet you don’t have any good replies for that one, C.D. He’s got a good point!”
Good point? GOOD POINT? I’m sorry, I wasn’t aware that the Gentlemen Groper’s good disposition towards me gave him unrestricted access to my body. I thought *I* was the only one who could grant that access.
From those interactions, it was pretty clear to me that management just did not care. Correctly or not, I assumed that if I filed a formal complaint, the reaction would be the same – indifference or worse.
Discouraged, but not yet defeated, I continued my campaign of snapping at the Gentlemen Groper every time he touched me. I might not be able to stop him, but damn it, if I was going to deal with panic attacks, I was at least going to get the satisfaction of telling him off.
And it turned out I’d been wrong. One member of the management did care.
The restaurant’s single female manager had been on vacation leave for the past few weeks. The day she came back, the Gentlemen Caller and I had another one of our lovely interactions.
“Stop touching me.”
“Because I asked you not to, that’s why.”
“That’s not a good enough reason!”
Suddenly, the Managing Savior stepped in: “Yeah, but Gentlemen Groper, you need to stop touching C.D. If she says she doesn’t want you to touch her, then you don’t touch her.”
And then he stopped.
I am not even joking. He didn’t touch me again for another two weeks (and then he started again, but that’s another story).
Talk about the power of management! I’d been telling the Gentlemen Groper to stop for weeks; the manager says one sentence, and BOOM.
Here’s the thing. My story isn’t interesting because it’s rare. My story is interesting because of how fucking banal it is.
After the Gentlemen Groper stopped touching me, I found out that he’d done the same thing to every single woman on staff who was in my age range.
Every. Single. One.
He wasn’t just a Gentlemen Groper. He was a Serial Gentlemen Groper.
[Sidenote: you know how all the other women got him to stop? By telling the Gentlemen Groper that they had boyfriends. Because we live in a fucking patriarchy, where an invisible boyfriend has more authority over a woman's body than she does.]
Like I said, my harassment story is ridiculously banal. Even within my workplace, I was the rule, not the exception.
And out of my workplace?
31% of women report that they’ve been sexually harassed at work
7% of men report that they’ve been sexually harassed at work
62% of the targets took no action.
Sexual harassment isn’t some kind of rare crime that happens to people you don’t know. It happens everywhere. It happens to everyone. A third of the working women you know have been sexually harassed.
And close to one-tenth of all the working men you know have also been sexually harassed.
Yeeaaaahhh…. I’m not sure “awkward” is the word I’d use.
Rage-inducing might be more like it.
WHY IS THIS EVEN A FUCKING PROBLEM?
I mean, I realize I’m reinventing the feminism wheel over here, but seriously. This is a problem that should never even be a problem, because people should know that “no” means “no.” They should know that people’s bodies are their own, and you don’t touch people without their consent. And managers should ENFORCE THOSE RULES, and pay attention when their employees are all “NO TOUCHING.”
Didn’t we learn this in kindergarten?
Here’s the end of the story:
My summer ended. I left to go back to school. And the Gentlemen Groper? He’s still there.
Other women will come and work at that store, and I don’t doubt he’ll do the same things to them that he did to me.
I know there are people reading this who will think I didn’t do enough. That I should have reported him, formally. That I must have been inviting the attention, somehow. I fear I’ll get a bunch of comments in the vein of “well, if you’d told him to stop in this very particular way, he would have stopped!”
Heck, there’s a part of me that believes that I could have done something differently. That I was inviting the attention, or that I’m responsible for the Gentlemen Groper’s future actions.
But let’s dissect that for a minute, my fair readers.
I was harassed. I was poked and prodded and groped. I lived in a near-constant state of panic attacks. And because all these shitty things happened to me, I’ve also been endowed with some magic responsibility to control The Gentlemen Groper’s actions for all of eternity?
With Great Victimhood comes Great Responsibility?
What is this Reverse Spiderman crap?
I mean, seriously. Not only do I get sexually harassed (hurrah), but on top of everything else, my being sexually harassed gives me EXTRA responsibilities? The fact that I was harassed means I need to be subjected to even more more scrutiny and humiliation? I have to put my job and my safety even more in danger in order to report the harassment to supervisors who, let’s face it, didn’t look particularly interested in stopping it?
I told the Gentlemen Groper to stop in no uncertain terms. I did it repeatedly. I did it fifteen times a shift, occasionally.
And he did nothing.
My managers saw the Gentlemen Groper harassing me; they saw me tell him to stop; they saw him keep doing it.
And they did nothing.
So you know what? If you’ve read this post and your first reaction is “well, you could have done THIS differently” or “why didn’t YOU file a harassment report”?
Then I could give a fuck about what you think.
The person responsible for my sexual harassment?
The Gentlemen Groper.
The people who should have helped, but didn’t? [and who, in some cases, actively encouraged the Gentlemen Groper]
Their behavior should be the issue, not mine. I know the extent of my responsibility in the incident of the Gentlemen Groper.
I know what I can do. I know what I “should” do.
Quick tangent: You know what the most annoying thing about this whole situation is?
I still feel guilty, two years out. There are parts of me that still feel like I should have been able to “handle it.” I should have been able to have that legendary sense of humor. I should not have “overreacted.” I shouldn’t have bothered everyone with this. It wasn’t that bad.
Hell, why am I even writing this blog post? It’s not that big a deal! I should stop bothering all of you with my silly stories. There are people out there experiencing real sexual harassment, as opposed to… whatever happened to me.
Those feelings? Those are the most annoying part.
And that’s why I didn’t report the harassment.
That’s also why, I suspect, most people don’t report sexual harassment. Because we as a culture teach people – and especially women – that they just need to put up with this crap. We as a culture refuse to stand behind harassment victims. We teach people that they should be “flattered” by the attention. That they shouldn’t make a big deal. We remind people that their harassers have lives too: “Do you want to ruin the Gentlemen Groper’s life, C.D.? Do you want to ruin your manager’s lives by bothering them?”
Sexual harassment happens because our culture encourages harassers and silences victims.
I’ve gotten (somewhat) over blaming myself for the harassment. I’ve moved to a place where I can be proud of myself for recognizing what was happening, and for standing up for myself.
I’ve gotten over telling myself I could have done something different.
I’ve gotten over the whole idea that victims have a special responsibility to confront their harassers and magically end sexual harassment through the power of gumption and bootstraps.
But I wanted to do something.
My story is banal. There are millions others like it. But sexual harassment thrives in a culture of silence. We just don’t talk about it. *I* didn’t talk about it.
But I wanted to do something.
So I wrote about it.
Because the first thing we can do – the first thing I can do – is talk about the harassment. Stop pretending it doesn’t happen. Tell people what it looks like. Make it clear that it’s not okay.
Sexual harassment thrives in silence. And no matter how guilty I feel for speaking up, I will not be silent anymore.
Resources: If you or someone you know is being sexually harassed, remember: the harasser’s behavior is not your fault or your responsibility.
Some people want help and advice. Hell, I could have used help and advice while I was being harassed. If you’re one of those people (and you don’t have to be) here’s a good listing of sexual harassment hotlines and resources.
Another, less formal resource is Captain Awkward’s post on the Creepy Dude. It’s brilliant, funny and the advice therein (and in the comments section) is remarkably not-victim-blamey and useful.
Comments policy: any victim-blaming bullshit will either be deleted or mocked. If you write an entire screed about what I “should” have done, you are warned, I will mock you, and I will not be nice about it.
General advice for sexual harassment victims is okay, within limits. Tread carefully. Do not use the word “should.” Remember that people experiencing harassment have enough to deal with without being made to feel inadequate for not behaving “correctly.” Also, if your comment is anything like “well, you can magically control your reactions to being constantly groped,” I will mock you.
And if your comment is ANYWHERE near “but will all flirting be banned then?” or “it’s so hard for men; they constantly have to watch themselves to make sure they’re not making people uncomfortable” (wait, this is a bad thing?) I will mock you SO HARD.
Finally any comments diagnosing the Gentlemen Groper with some kind of mental illness or disability will similarly be deleted or mocked. Excusing the Groper’s behavior because of a disability/illness is insulting to other people with mental illnesses (like me) or mental disabilities, because it assumes that people with mental illnesses/disabilities are a) all assholes and b) are incapable of understanding the word “no.” The topic has been well covered elsewhere, but I’ll say it again: people with mental and social disabilities are still perfectly capable of understanding the words “stop” and “no.”
*MASSIVE SPOILER FOR THE DARK KNIGHT RISES, I AM NOT EVEN JOKING, IF YOU DON’T WANT TO BE SPOILED, DON’T READ THIS POST*
So. Er. Did anyone notice that here really weren’t any women in The Dark Knight Rises?
Everyone Else On the Internet: “… No?”
Yeah, I’ll admit this seems like an out-of-place critique. Compared with Batman Begins and The Dark Knight, The Dark Knight Rises was practically FLOODED with women.
We had not one, but two female characters! They both had big important roles! And both of them were defined by more than just Bruce Wayne’s romantic interest in them! We finally – FINALLY – got Catwoman.
But I, the resident Feminist Batwoman, still have some complaints about the presence (or lack thereof) of women in the movie.
In the immortal words of Selina Kyle:
Okay, so, I will gladly admit that there are actual women in The Dark Knight Rises. I will even gladly admit that they are interesting, well-rounded characters. We have Miranda/Talia. We have Selina Kyle. We even have Selina’s friend Jen. And then we have, er…
A quick search of IMDB informs me that the other women included Maids #1-#3, a female security guard, and Ra’s Al Ghul’s wife, who never talks (and honestly, we never even see her face).
So… not so much in terms of “other women.”
Oh, but maybe The Dark Knight Rises just doesn’t have a lot of named characters! Maybe that’s why there aren’t that many named women!
Least you ask, there are some fifteen-odd named male characters in The Dark Rises, including Bruce Wayne, Fox, Alfred Caine, Commissioner Gordon, Blake/Robin, Dr. Pavel, The Mayor, Strykker, Daggert, Ra’s Al Ghul and Foley.
It’s a product of how few women there are in action movies full stop that we look at two (or three) women in a superhero movie as a lot. Named female characters in The Dark Knight Rises are vastly outnumbered by named male characters. So while I’m pleased that we’re finally moving towards having more well-rounded, interesting female characters…
I’m not ready to start baking feminist cookies yet.
Okay, so, not a lot of named female characters in The Dark Knight Rises. Sure.
But frankly, it wasn’t the lack of named female characters that struck me. It was the lack of unnamed female character. The lack of female extras.
The lack of women in the movie’s background.
The Dark Knight Rises is filled with people. The filmmakers must have hired thousands of extras to create all of their crowds; it is, after all, a film about a city.
And most of the crowds are divided into very specific groups: Groups of terrified civilians. Groups of Bane’s henchmen. Groups of cops. And groups of young children.
According to my very un-sophisticated analysis, the four “groups” that were the most important in terms of the plot were the henchmen, the cops, the prisoners (both in the Gotham and the Bane children) and the children. All four get big chances to shine, both as heroes and as sympathetic (or antipathetic) figures. There are, I will admit, a lot of shots of terrified crowds, but they’re more important in terms of atmosphere than in terms of thematic importance. The scene of the police advancing on the henchmen, or the children stuck on the bridge, is much thematically important, in my understanding of the movie, than the shot of all the bankers screaming as they exit the stock exchange.
Perhaps most importantly, the henchmen/prisoners, the children and the police serve as mirrors to the larger themes of the movie: sacrifice, service, loyalty and family. The children and the police are the two sides of Bruce Wayne – the innocent, wronged child, and the protective, warrior-adult. The police, moreover, are the lawful side of Batman’s quest – they too, work to protect hte civilian population. The henchmen are the more brutish manifestations of Bane and Talia Al Gul. And the prisoners are in the middle – symbolic of Bane and Talia’s past, but also of Bruce’s challenges. They are the dark side of the population of Gotham, the angry hordes hidden inside prisons, just waiting to be released.
So. Four major groups of people. Huge thematic importance. Thousands of extras.
And you know what?
There aren’t a whole lot of women in those groups.
In fact, in most of those groups, there are no women at all.
Try to think of a female policewoman in The Dark Knight Rises. Any. There were hundreds of police officers in that movie, both in and out of uniform. They’re everywhere.
And I will be highly impressed if you manage to find one woman in the mass of teaming cops.
I saw the movie twice; the second time I was specifically looking for these elusive background women. I think I managed to catch a glimpse of one female cop near the middle of the movie. I can’t be sure.
Sure, I think we could probably find one or two women cops, if we looked hard. But one or two women in a group of hundreds – or thousands – of policemen?
… that’s all kinds of ridiculous.
And I will bet you actual cash (not a lot of it – remember that I’m a poor college student) that you cannot find a single female henchman. Again, I looked pretty damn carefully, and I did not see any.
There are a LOT of henchmen in The Dark Knight Rises.
None of them are women.
Bane’s group of merry terrorists are solely and exclusively male.
Not surprisingly, there are also no female prisoners
(with the notable exceptions of Selina Kyle and Talia Al Gul, but crucially, but women are cited as EXCEPTIONS. Selina is in a men’s-only prison, as is Talia Al-Gul, and in fact, prisoners are so coded as male that no one guesses the escaped prisoner (Talia) might be female. Also, both Talia and Selina are named female characters – there are no random female prisoners walking around as extras).
So yeah. Women can’t be “normal” bad guys (henchmen/prisoners) and they can’t be “normal” good guys either (the police).
Now, I can hear the objections already.
Oh, well, that’s just ACCURACY, that is. Because there AREN’T a lot of female cops or bad guys in real life, so The Dark Knight Rises is just being ACCURATE.
I HAD NEVER THOUGHT OF THAT.
(that was sarcastic, in case you couldn’t tell).
Okay, Point the First:
The Dark Knight Rises is about a man who dresses up like a bat and fights bad guys in the dark of the night. I’m not sure it’s going to win any prizes for accuracy. Also, that part where Bruce Wayne’s back is broken and all his cartilage has been destroyed, but he gets back to top physical form in less than, like, two months?
Point the second: There aren’t female terrorists or female cops in real life?
In the United States, most local police departments have at least 12% female officers. In big cities like Detroit, Philadelphia and Chicago (one of the places where the Batman series was filmed), nearly one fourth of cops are women. In Canada, TWENTY PERCENT of cops are women.
Female cops EXIST.
There is no good reason why, in a movie with dozens of shots of hundreds of police officers, we can’t spot more than one or two female officers. That would indicate a 1% female enrollment, which is SIGNIFICANTLY lower than the actual rate, even if you take the lowest one one (12%).
And henchmen? No female henchmen? Oh, right, there have never been any women involved in terrorist movements, or resistance movements, or populist uprisings.
… with the small exception of ALL the terrorist movements/ resistances/ populist uprisings.
There are women suicide bombers and female members of terrorist groups. Some populist resistance groups/ freedom fighters are mostly female. It’s ridiculous that I even need to do a historical overview, because women freedom terrorists are so damn ubiquitous it would be like trying to prove the existence of MALE terrorists.
[Sidenote: I'm about to cite a whole host of groups that have been classified by the west as terrorist organizations. This does not mean that I personally believe they are terrorists; it's just that the popular western imagination SEES them as terrorists, so they're organizations that someone like, say, Nolan, would look to to craft Bane's group]
Here are just a few examples of women in terrorism: Women have been central figures in Sri Lanka’s Tamil Tigers (a group that pioneered female suicide squads), Chechen terrorism (the “black widows”), the liberation movement in Algeria (where women smuggled weapons, planted bombs and served as spies), the Shining Path in Peru, the Japanese Red Army (founded and led by a woman), the Weathermen of the United States and the Ku Klux Klan of the United States (okay, these guys are definitely terrorists, no qualifications needed. They’re also racist assholes).
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg of female involvement in terrorist groups.
Believing that a Bane-like revolt movement would not have any female participants involves such a willful ignorance of history and social realities, it’s somewhat mind-boggling.
Of course, the place where the whole “but there aren’t that many women in those groups ANYWAYS” argument *really* falls apart is with the children.
Correct me if I’m wrong, but there are usually approximately the same number of male and female children, right? That’s a thing, right?
So why the hell are there no female children in The Dark Knight Rises? (I will get to the notable exception later; don’t kill me).
I mean, the filmmakers even make a POINT of coding children as male: they make sure to specify that Blake went to a home for young boys and when Blake tries to save the children, he returns to that same home for young boys. When the Wayne Mansion is converted into an orphanage, it’s pretty clear that it’ll be a boy’s orphanage (I didn’t spot any girls in the crowd of children running in, and I was looking pretty closely).
Where the fuck are all the female children, that’s what I want to know. Do they get fancy orphanages? Are there any organizations taking care of them? Does anyone bother trying to save the orphan girls during the nuclear explosion?
Why don’t they matter enough to be a part of the narrative?
Did some kind of plague kill all the girls?
OHMIGOD, HAVE THEY ALL BEEN KIDNAPPED?
BATMAN! GET ON IT.
Do women just pop out of the ground, fully-formed, like Athena from Zeus’s head?
What aggravates me is that children – or, more precisely, boys – are SUPER important thematically. The orphan boys represent Bruce Wayne’s past; they also represent Gotham’s future protectors (since both Blake and Bruce were once orphaned boys). Moreover, they’re symbolic of what Batman has to protect, both with his fortune (by building orphanages) and with his life (by sacrificing himself so the boys don’t die).
[note that even in the previous movie, The Dark Knight, the child Batman saves at the end is a boy]
And women are completely excluded from that. They’re excluded from this narrative of loss, and eventual growth:
They don’t get to be protected. They don’t get to be the orphans who grow up to be heroes. They’re not part of Gotham’s future.
Because all the children in The Dark Knight Rises are boys, the Batman cycle is an exclusively MALE cycle: young boys with dark pasts grow up to protect other young boys.
It’s also quite disappointing to see this lack of girls in the movie because of Selina Kyle. In the comics, Selina Kyle was also an orphan. After her parents died, she was put in a juvenile detention center; she escaped and, in order to survive, she became a child prostitute. Later, she transformed into Catwoman in part to protect and feed (with her ill-gotten gains) her fellow child-prostitutes.
Thus, in the comics, Selina Kyle serves as another side of Bruce Wayne’s narrative of loss and protection. The movie, however, refuses to let her mirror Bruce in that way.
Selina Kyle proves that the Batman story – the story of loss and eventual heroism – is not an exclusively male narrative; instead, The Dark Knight Rises CHOSE to make it an exclusively male narrative.
Random People object: ARE YOU SAYING NOLAN IS EXCLUDING WOMEN BECAUSE HE HATES THEM AND HE’S A MISOGYNIST? YOUUUUU SUCK.”
Answer: Yes, I do suck, but for other reasons.
And to be fair: No, I do not think Nolan and his fellow filmmakers excluded women on purpose. I think it was almost entirely unconscious.
That’s what so damn depressing.
I will bet you a giant pile of jellybeans that when Nolan and Co. looked over their crowds of policemen, henchmen and children, none of them thought: “Huh, there aren’t a lot of women.”
And I will bet you another giant pile of jellybeans that most people who saw the movie weren’t thinking that either.
In fact, both the filmmakers and their audiences probably saw these giant, male-dominated crowds, and thought it was perfectly normal.
They also probably didn’t think “oh, look at all those men.”
They probably thought: “Oh, look at all those people.”
If you’re casting for a pretty gender-neutral group of extras – like, say, policemen or children (yes, I think policemen are gender neutral), you would assume that in a gender-neutral world, people would cast their crowds approximately 50-50. But in our world, you can cast an entire set of extras as men and not have anyone (except me) bat an eye
Because men are the default.
That’s why we don’t notice when we see all-male crowds, or all-male movies. Men are the default. Men are people. You grab women when you specifically want a woman (like for Catwoman), but you don’t cast women to just be people. People are men.
That’s why feminists – including me – did a happy dance when Barack Obama used a default female pronoun to describe the life of an average American child. Because we’re so used to thinking of these average workers, average children, average voters – as men.
Women are other.
If men weren’t the default, I guarantee you that I would not be the only person ranting about this gender inequality. I don’t think people didn’t notice it because they’re sexist, I think people didn’t notice it because we’re used to having men be the default. I don’t think Nolan cast his extras this way because he’s sexist, I think he cast the movie this way because he’s used to having a male default. Need a random bit character? Cast a man!
Hell, if men weren’t the default, there would be tons of female henchpeople serving Bane, and no one would say anything, because of course women are henchpeople, why wouldn’t they be?
Here’s the really important part. The part I think everyone – mostly superheroes – need to understand.
If you assume a male default, you’re REALLY SHOOTING YOURSELF IN THE FOOT.
Look, the only reason Miranda/Talia managed to pull off her whole “hiding in plain sight” routine is because everyone assumed the “child” that climbed out of the prison was a boy. The child had short hair, no one called her a “girl” – so Bruce assumed it was a boy, and thus assumed it was Bane. If he hadn’t assumed it was Bane, maybe he would have, you know, done research to check the evidence.
And the reason the cops let Selina Kyle go during the bar shoot-out scene is because they assumed that a frightened, screaming woman couldn’t have anything to do with the kidnapping. WHOOOPS.
Assumptions are a dangerous thing. Because we’re so used to seeing women in action movies as a single role – the love interest – most of the audience didn’t even consider that Miranda/Talia could be anything but that.
You assume a male default, you’re basically allowing women an automatic advantage of surprise.
…And I really don’t think someone like Selina Kyle or Talia Al Ghul needs any more advantages. They’re pretty badass already.
Women can be bad guys. Women can be cops. Women can be children (no shit). Once we start moving away from these huge inequities and gendered assumptions, we won’t have to construct plots based on the major surprise of “OH MY GOD, THE CHILD WAS A GIRL.”
So yeah, I’m not giving The Dark Knight Rises a feminist cookie. Like I said, I appreciate that there are more named female characters. I’ll appreciate it even more when women aren’t treated like exceptions or like “surprise bad guys” or Othered in various ways. And I’ll appreciate it EVEN MORE when I can see a crowd of police ready to take on the bad guys… and half of both the bad guys and the police are women.
There’s a point in The Dark Knight Rises where one of the Baddy McBadGuys (Daggert), flush with his evil victory, says “Hey, can we get some girls in here?”
You know what, Mr. Baddy McBadGuy? Much as I disagree with your morals, I very much agree with the sentiment. Can we get some girls in these movies?
… I don’t think it’s going to bring the quality of the action down.
I should note that I loved The Dark Knight Rises. LOOOOVED it. I want to follow Selina Kyle around and give her buckets and buckets of roses and champagne and pearls. I want to give Alfred a big hug. Hell, I even want to give Talia a high-five for pulling one over Bruce Wayne. You are one BAMF, Talia. I salute you.
And I was SOBBING through the end.
EVERYONE in the theater could probably hear me.
And for the next three days, I was just like:
I really loved The Dark Knight Rises.
Which I think speaks to the fact that art is COMPLEX, and people are COMPLEX, and we can have COMPLEX feelings, and be having joygasms over awesome things while also pointing out the ways in which they suck.
It is possible to like problematic things, everyone!
Talk amongst yourselves.
[BRUCE WAYNE x SELINA KYLE OTP]
[This is a very silly post. You have been warned]
I am, of course, terribly excited about this new development. Whoo! I have enough traffic that I’ve got vehement disagreement!
They may even be trolls. It’s hard to tell.
But still! Troll-like comments. Oh, I am marvelously excited about this!
Buried beneath the comments about how “feminists are all misandronists” (does anyone know what a misandronist is, out of curiosity? Right now, I’m going for a cross between a misandrist and an android) and the comments telling me how offensive I was, and the ones explaining that I was everything that was wrong with the world…
… there was actually a point I thought was worth addressing, from the Very Long Comment Left by a Very Concerned Commentator:
“So for the love of the gods, get off your soap boxes and relax. Maybe have a bit of fun for a change.”
Now, I have to admit, I was very confused by this… suggestion. I mean, I appreciate the sentiment, don’t get me wrong! It’s nice to know that the Very Concerned Commentator, despite thinking that I’m a horrible person, does want me to have fun.
My reaction, however, wasn’t so much: “Oh, god! They’re right! I must immediately stop blogging and go to an amusement park instead!”
It was more along the lines of: “But…I am having fun.”
Yes. Seriously. I know you’re skeptical. But I am having fun. Not just low-level fun either. I’m talking Lord of the Rings Marathon fun. Giant ice cream-party-fun. Playing with a kitten fun. Learning to do a handstand fun. Digging a space-time tunnel to Shakespearian England fun.
Hey, I get it. Maybe writing giant 5000-word-rants isn’t your thing. And that’s fine. Some people toilet-paper houses. Some people climb Mount Everest without bottled oxygen. Some people parachute out of airplanes. Some people belly-dance. Some people dip their fries in milkshake. Some people watch the Star Wars prequels (*shudder*). To quote the inestimable Hoban Washburne:
And some people – me – write self-righteous feminist analyses of pop-culture. Because that’s my idea of fun. Bizarre, I know, but I love deconstructing stuff. I love ranting. I love writing. Fuck, I would do this for free…
… and in point of fact, I do. (unless someone is paying me without my knowledge, which seems unlikely)
So I appreciate your concern, my dear past-and-future commentators. But rest assured that it’s fine. I am having fun.
Which leads me to point #2 of My Dearest Very Concerned Commentator’s Concern. They suggested – several times – that I should get off my soapbox.
I’m going to assume that My Dearest Very Concerned Commentator was not, in fact, referring to an actual soapbox, but was referring to my blog. Mostly because I don’t own a soapbox, and the Very Concerned Commentator has no way of knowing whether or not I own a soapbox, and sometimes people use metaphors… and yeah.
The soapbox is probably a metaphor for the blog. Right.
Again, this is interesting advice. But as we’ve seen, I actually enjoy writing this blog, so not writing it would mean having less fun, which directly contradicts their prior advice to have MORE fun -
So in spite of my deep gratitude and appreciation for My Dearest Very Concerned Commentator’s advice… I did not follow their instructions.
Wait! Wait! Before you spill all your tea in shock! Let me explain!
Very Concerned Commentator is right. This blog is my soapbox.
Which means I get to talk about whatever I want on it.
Kittens! Puppies! Feminist rants! American Idol! Science Fiction! More kittens! Stupid jokes! Weird GIFS! EVEN MORE KITTENS! FEMINIST KITTENS!
Whatever I want.
Now, you may disagree with what I write. That’s perfectly fine. You may think what I care about is trivial. That’s also perfectly fine. You may argue with what I write. Again: perfectly fine.
You can even get your own soapbox/blog and talk about what you want on it. You can talk about how wrong I am for hours and hours and hours and hours. Have fun (and I don’t mean that sarcastically)!
Hell, you don’t even have to read me! Unlike a real soapbox, where you’re stuck listening to whatever dolt is ranting on the public square, no one is forcing you to read this blog. Absolutely no one. If you don’t want to read my rants… don’t.
But you cannot tell me to get off my soapbox.
Because I built it and I will stay on it as long as I damn please.
See! There’s my soapbox! My feminist soapbox. Isn’t it awesome? It isn’t exactly a soapbox – I’m pretty sure it used to contain books, not soap – but it’s pretty close. And the colors are shiny.
…Yes. Yes, I did literally build a soapbox to stand on. Or sit on.
Yes. Yes, in fact, I did take that comment way too far. WAAAAAAY too far.
Even though playing with markers was pretty fun.
[By Jove, I love the smell of sharpie in the morning. Smells like... gender equality.]
Let’s recap, shall we?
Yes, everyone, this blog is my soapbox. Yes, everyone, I am having fun on my blog/soapbox.
No, you cannot tell me to get off my soapbox. Not unless you want me to take your comment waaaaaaaay too literally and spend an hour-and-a-half building an actual soapbox.
I know everyone was deeply concerned about these questions. Now that they have been answered, feel free to go about your normal business!
Feminist Batwoman – I mean, Culturally Disoriented – out.
*Any resemblance between Culturally Disoriented and the masked vigilante and Protector of Gender Equality known as the Feminist Batwoman is purely coincidental. Even though they’re wearing the same mask. And they’re never in the same place at the same time.
It’s. A. Coincidence. They have absolutely nothing to do with one another. Like Bruce Wayne and Batman.
**Also, if anyone knows what a misandronist is… page me.
*** If you would like to build your own feminist soapbox (or anti-racist/LGBT/trans-issues/star wars/whatever soapbox), please do! But remember that actual cardboard boxes are quite flimsy, and probably won’t support your weight. My cat fell through the box when she jumped on it. Cardboard = not the best idea.
Why does mine work? I propped it up with a giant stack of books underneath.
[Be forewarned that this post contains images NSFW (as do many of the links in the post)]
My younger brother, in addition to being a voracious reader, an avid SF/F fan, a social justice crusader and an all-around awesome person, is really into sports. He plays massive amounts of soccer and frisbee, he bikes, he rock-climbs, he runs, he’s a self-taught juggler – I don’t think there’s a sport he’s tried that he doesn’t enjoy. So before he left on vacation in France, he suggested that I write a blog post about sexism in sports.
I said: “Wha?”
For the record, the fact that my brother is attuned to such things at the tender age of twelve makes me very happy.
Anyways. I told him that although I thought it was an interesting and important subject, I didn’t know very much about sports, and thus did not feel qualified to comment on the matter. But I promised to keep an eye out.
And then yesterday I came across ESPN Magazine’s photoshoot for its Body Issue, entitled The Bodies We Want. Thirty six photos of professional athletes. All with bodies I want, apparently [And of course, I do want them, I just wouldn't know where to put them!]
And all nude.
I was thirty four pictures in when I went: “By Jove, I believe there’s a blog post in here!”
Because if I don’t feel qualified enough to discuss sexism in sports, I certainly do feel qualified enough to discuss sexism in the ways professional athletes are photographed. Hell, I’ve written entire essays on the gender politics of visual depictions. My academic training has to come in handy at some point, right?
Okay. So, some quick background on gender in the visual arts – I promise, this is quick and painless:
[My primary source here is John Berger's book Ways of Seeing, although many texts treat this issue]:
It’s a commonly known fact among people with an interest in visual art – painting, photography, sculptures, comic books etc. – that in the western art tradition, men have typically been portrayed as active figures, while women have been portrayed as passive figures, arranged for the pleasure of the implied (male) audience.
Note how Venus’s body is turned TOWARDS the audience, despite the fact that, within the scene of the painting, she’s kissing Cupid and should thus be turned towards him. Instead of being an active agent, in other words, she’s displayed to appeal to the audience.
And here, in a 20th century piece of comic art, we’ve got Rogue and Gambit kissing. But while Gambit’s pose makes perfect sense in the context of the kiss, Rogue’s… does not. Unless she has a broken back. Or unless there are two women in that picture, one of whom is hiding her head under Gambit’s cloak. Or unless it’s normal to simultaneously turn your body towards AND away from someone you’re trying to kiss.
Rogue, of course, is in the classic “brokeback” pose, where a woman’s body is contorted bizarrely so that the (presumed straight male) reader will be able to see both her boobs and her butt.
Ahem. Now that we have the art history out of way, let’s get back to sports, shall we?
On the surface, I would have expected that a photoshoot of athletes – even a photoshoot of nude athletes – would not have this “male active/female passive” problem. Because the point of this particular issue of ESPN magazine is – and I quote:
“to admire the vast potential of the human form. To unapologetically stand in awe of the athletes who’ve pushed their physiques to profound frontiers. To imagine how it would feel to inhabit those bodies, to leap and punch and throw like a god.”
Great! A photoshoot of people doing incredible, awe-inspiring things with their bodies. I’m all for it!
The nudity is a bit weird, I’ll grant you, but I suppose you have to be unique somehow.
And, for the first ten pictures or so, that’s what it was. Nude pictures (with no dangly bits) of athletes doing incredible, gorgeous things with their bodies. Women were being active. Men were being active. It was all good. The feminist rage was contained.
Wait, what? Suzann Pettersen is a golfer. She’s a very good golfer, in point of fact – recently ranked #2 worldwide. So why is she not golfing? Why is she sitting on a deck in front of a beach?
Is there a golf move I don’t know about? Do golfers have a tanning contest in the middle of their competition?
It’s not like she can’t do amazing things with her body:
Okay. Maybe she’d twisted her ankle. Maybe the photographer didn’t get the memo about the shoot being one where athletes show off what their bodies can do. Let’s move on.
I don’t play tennis, but I watch it regularly, and I’m pretty sure that the above is not a tennis move. Unless there’s a move where the player drops her racket, lifts up her leg and pushes her hair out of her face, then smiles seductively at the tennis ball, thereby making the tennis ball fall in love with her.
I mean, it seems awfully involved. And tricky. What if the tennis ball isn’t attracted to women?
All right, that’s it. What. The Everloving. Fuck?
That is Candace Parker, people. Candace Parker. She’s one of only four women who have successfully executed a slam dunk in the WNBA. I don’t even know basketball, and I know that Candace Parker is fucking amazing. Why is she being photographed like she’s on an episode of America’s Next Top Model? (no disrespect to Tyra Banks).
And it just. kept. going. Female athlete after female athlete was photographed not as a talented, powerful sportswoman, but as… eye candy.
Admittedly, maybe I was dreaming. Maybe just as many men had been photographed in passive poses as women. Maybe there were more active women than I thought. Maybe my feminist sensibilities were getting in the way of my critical thinking.
So I pulled out the calculator, and went for the evidence.
Before we dive into the statistics, I’ll clarify my terminology. An “active” pose is one where the athlete is performing a move related to their sport. Merely holding a ball does not make a pose active. A “passive” pose is one where the athlete is not performing a move related to their sport (or any sport).
Here are the numbers for the ESPN shoot linked above (and here):
Photographs of Men: 19
Photographs of Women: 17
Individual Male Athletes in the Shoot: 11
Individual Female Athletes in the Shoot: 17
Photographs of Men in active poses: 15 (78%)
Photographs of Men in passive poses: 4 (22%)
Photographs of Women in active poses: 9 (52%)
Photographs of Women in passive poses: 8 (48%)
Well, there’s clearly a big difference here. BUT.
Since there are multiple photographs of particular athletes, I decided to change the criteria to: how many athletes had at least one photograph where they were in an active pose? [For example, Rob Gronkowski has two photos in the slideshow. In one of them, he's in a passive pose, in the other, he's in an active pose].
And here’s where it gets particularly interesting:
Individual Male athletes: 11
Male athletes with at least ONE active pose in the slideshow: 10 (90%)
Male athletes who are ALWAYS passive: 1 (10%)
Individual Female athletes: 17
Female Athletes with at least ONE active pose in the slideshow: 7 (46%)
Female Athletes who are ALWAYS passive: 8 (54%)
Switching it around: How many male and female athletes have at least ONE photo with a passive pose in the slideshow?
Individual Male Athletes: 11
Male Athletes with at least ONE passive pose in the slideshow: 3 (28%)
Male Athletes who are ALWAYS active: 8 (72%)
Individual Female Athletes: 17
Female Athletes with at least ONE passive pose in the slideshow: 15 (88%)
Female Athletes who are ALWAYS active: 3 (12%)
Hookay, then. It appears that my Ultra-Feminist brain was not Making Shit Up. [Despite the fact that I am Female, and therefore cannot Math]
Let’s review, shall we?
78% of the photos of men depict an active pose, while only 52% of women’s do.
In addition, ten out of eleven of the male athletes in the slideshow have at least one active pose. Basically, they’re all – with one exception – being portrayed as athletes rather than eye candy.
Moreover, 72% of the men are portrayed as athletes in ALL their photos; there’s no photo where they’re just looking hot for the camera. Obviously, ESPN doesn’t feel the need to make the men eye candy.
On the other hand, over 50% of the female athletes in the slideshow have no active poses at all. Which means that over half of them are not being portrayed as athletes; they’re essentially standing there and looking pretty. And only 3 women – 12% – are portrayed ONLY as athletes. 88% of the women have at least ONE pose where they’re just looking hot for the camera (versus 28% for the men). Which suggests that ESPN DOES feel the need to make the women eye candy.
Now, I have nothing against people being pretty or people being hot. If all the guys were standing around making coy glances towards me, then we would know that the purpose of the shoot was for people to stand around and look hot. And I wouldn’t be annoyed.
The above, by the way, is an example of a male athlete in a “passive” pose – e.g: standing around and looking pretty. I will admit that he does look very pretty, but I’m too confused by the stuff on his body to appreciate it. Mud? Paint? Syrup? Gee, that must be uncomfortable…
But that’s a moot point. Because looking hot was not the purpose of this particular shoot; the shoot was supposed to portray professional athletes showing off their abilities.
Instead, the shoot is one where men show off their athletic abilities; where men are depicted as talented and powerful.
And it is a shoot where some women can show off their athletic abilities, and are portrayed as talented and powerful.
But most women in the shoot are not portrayed as powerful, talented athletes. They’re portrayed as hot chicks.
And this goes back to the art history I mentioned earlier. In western art, men are portrayed as active agents, while women are portrayed as passive receptacles for the audience’s gaze. Here, the shoot is entitled “Bodies We Want.” The Male Athletes are the bodies the (presumed male) audience wants to HAVE – active, powerful, talented. The Female Athletes, meanwhile, are the bodies the (presumed male) audience wants to LOOK AT – beautiful and passive.
Doesn’t matter what you do, ladies. You’ll always be eye candy.
I should note, of course, that female athletes who don’t fit the standard of traditional eye candy have a much harder time gaining mainstream media coverage or sponsorships. It is not surprising – though it is depressing – that Sara Robbles, the USA’s best chance at an Olympic Medal for weightlifting this year – is getting almost zero media coverage. She can lift over 568 pounds. She also lives in poverty.
For female athletes, the message is clear. It is not enough to simply be powerful, talented and hard-working. One must also be traditionally beautiful enough to qualify as eye-candy.
Here’s what I find depressing. The women in this shoot are professional athletes. They are at the top of their field. They’ve worked extraordinarily hard, they’ve acquired incredible physical abilities, they’ve got the kind of talent and determination most of us can only dream of. These are the women that children who play sports look up to. These are the women children look at and say “I want to be like that.”
But in the eyes of the sports media, these women are still only important because of the way they look, not what they can do. They’re still primarily eye candy, rather than professional athletes.
What, I ask, does a female athlete have to do in order to be portrayed as what she is: an athlete?
I don’t know. Frankly, female athletes have already jumped through every possible hoop and they still don’t get the same respect as their male counterparts. At this point, it isn’t about the athletes any more. It’s about the media, and the people who consume it.
So what does the media need to do in order to portray female athletes as athletes?
The media – and its audience – needs to realize that a woman’s worth is not determined by her appearance or by her appeal to straight men. [I'd say "or her appeal to straight men and lesbian/bisexual women, but sadly, I don't think the sports media gives a flying flunderton about the opinions of lesbian and bisexual women]
The media needs to stop worrying that if they portray a strong, powerful woman as strong and powerful, everyone will freak out. They need to stop pretending that women must perform traditional femininity 24/7 in order to be worth talking about. They need to stop worrying that their audience will think female athletes are too “butch” or lesbian. For one thing, some of those women are lesbians, and there’s nothing wrong with that. The fact that they aren’t trying to “catch a man” doesn’t take anything away from their athletic competence.Not to mention the fact that there are plenty of straight female athletes who aren’t trying to catch or please a man, and this is also totally fine.
[unless I'm missing something about competitive sports. Is there some kind of half-time ritual where we release men into the basketball/soccer/golf/etc. arena, and expect the female athletes to go catch them? If there is, I really must start attending more live games...]
And we collectively need to get over our fear of powerful, talented women. Yes, there are women who can run at extreme speeds. Yes, there are women who can kick a ball hard enough to take off a man’s head. Yes, there are women who can throw you on the ground and beat you to a pulp. Yes, there are women who don’t perform femininity in traditional ways. And that is okay. The world will survive.
The good news is, ESPN is already doing those things – sort of:
This. Is exactly. What I’m talking about.
Anna Tunnicliffe and Abby Wamach are two of the only women in the shoot who aren’t ever photographed as eye-candy. We see them as athletes, and only as athletes.
And these photos? Are incredible.
They show powerful athletes doing powerful, athletic things. They show the women’s talent, skill and power. They leave the audience in awe at the amount of training and determination it must take to get to that level.
And they leave no doubt in my mind that women can be portrayed as professional athletes without the entire world crumbling.
I realize feminists are supposed to hate men, but frankly, how low an opinion do you have to have of straight men that you think they would look at the above pictures and say “Aww, damn, she’s not acting like a playboy bunny?”
I, for one, am a lot of more optimistic. I think the current sports media audience can handle it. I really do. And I know that I, for one, would be a lot more likely to buy sports magazines if I thought the women in them would be portrayed as professional athletes.
So that’s what I think the sports media should do: depict athletes as athletes. It doesn’t even take a whole lot of gender analysis or consciousness raising. You just have to do your damn job, and make sure all the pictures in a photoshoot of professional athletes showing off their skills are, in fact, pictures of professional athletes showing off their skills.
In other words -
Less of this:
More of This:
And also, more Sara Robles. Obviously.
It’s not that hard. All those women ESPN hired to do the shoot – all the ones with the coy smiles and the model-esque positions – they all have incredible skills to show off.
Wouldn’t it be nice to see them portrayed as athletes?
Those are the bodies I want.
And now I’ve just gone and written an entire post about nude pictures. Because my twelve-year-old brother asked me to write about sports.
I don’t even know, man.
For shits and giggles (and for more concluding evidence), I managed to dig up a SECOND slideshow for this year’s body issue. This one with ONLY female athletes in the shoot.
You’d think things would get better there. But if you’d think that… you would be wrong.
Total Photos: 13
Photographs of the Athletes in active poses: 5 (38%)
Photographs of the athletes in passive poses: 8 (62%)
Individual Female Athletes in the Shoot: 16
Female Athletes who are active at least ONCE: 7 (46%)
Female Athletes who are NEVER active: 9 (56%)
Your honor, I rest my case.