The Perils of Bad Titles (and poorly thought out analogies)

I take full responsibility for the kerfuffle I caused last week with my Role/Reboot latest. It was not my most sensitive or thoughtful work and I did some harm where I meant to only raise questions.

I often think that flipping pronouns is a useful way of analyzing the role that gender is playing in media coverage. We’ve looked at examples before, like coverage of Marissa Mayer or a story about a teenage heart throb’s virginity.

Last week, fed up with the excessive victim blaming that goes into coverage of high-profile sexual assault cases, like the recent piece on Hobart Williams and Smith, or Steubenville, I wrote an essay exploring what happens when we flip pronouns on the victims and imagine these cases if young men were raped instead of young women. Would we still say an 11-year-old boy “lured” men like a “spider,” as we did in Cleveland, TX? Would the “Princeton Mom” still say it’s “all on him” if a male college student was too drunk to prevent his rape? I don’t think we would, and I still think that there’s value in exploring how language can expose bias.

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But, I made a few mistakes. The biggest one was the title, which I suggested and my editor confirmed: “If Straight Men Were Raped: How Pronouns Change the Conversation About Victim Blaming.*” Do you see the problem? I kind of can’t believe I missed it. Of course straight men are raped. This is not a hypothetical, fantastical suggestion; straight men are raped by other men. In fact, as was pointed out by several readers, although women are assaulted far more frequently, one of the key reasons male victims don’t come forward (i.e. one of the reasons we have so many fewer media examples to refer to), is precisely because the stigmas on male victims are unique.

I did not intend to write an essay on those particular stigmas, as I don’t feel equipped or educated enough to do so. But I also did not intend to belittle or shame straight men that have been raped, nor to downplay the equally-horrible but differently-shaped reactions that those survivors get. Here are a few responses that better articulate the issue:

“A LOT of rape of men by men is disregarded because people think he must’ve given off some sort of “gay” thing that made him seem to want it. There are different ways in which male survivors have their rapes and SAs denied, mostly via homophobia. And god help you find support if you actually are GBT or Q. Obviously we know there are serious issues with GBTQ men who are sexually assaulted. I’d bet pretty much nobody is marginalized when it comes to sexual assault more than LGBTQ populations in general.” – from Joanna Schroeder, Good Men Project

“But where you say that you are merely trying to highlight inappropriate use of gendered language around victims, I contend that you are doing to male victims the very thing you are fighting against – namely grossly distorting and dismissing the realities that we live under. In effect, you are throwing male victims under the bus in order to make a point about female victims that no one in their right mind would argue against.” – From Chris Anderson, MaleSurvivors.org

I hope that the content of the article makes clear that I believe all victims deserve respect and that no one, of any gender or sexual orientation, should be shamed, stigmatized, ostracized, or blamed, for their assault. I also hope that Chris and Joanna’s responses help illuminate some subtleties that I missed in my first pass.

 

*We changed the title later to “If Straight Men Were Raped As Often As Women….” – Better, but not great.

Related Post: “After donation regret” and other rape analogies

Related Post: Using pronoun-flipping on Serena Williams’ Steubenville comments.

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On Being an Ice Bucket Challenge Party Pooper

There’s a reason it’s taken me seven days to write about why I didn’t (and won’t) participate in the Ice Bucket Challenge that has raised a buttload of money for the ALS Association

[Note: If you are not familiar, ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig's Disease, is a hideous neurodegenerative disease that paralyzes and kills within a very short time. It is one of the conditions often cited by advocates of doctor-assisted suicide. That's how bad it is.]

When I was nominated for the viral challenge by mother, I knew I wasn’t going to do it, but I couldn’t figure out exactly why. My instinct was that peer-pressure and popularity are not the reasons I want to participate in philanthropy, but it’s taken me a week and half a dozen  conversations to articulate my thinking.

So here’s where I landed:

Screenshot_8_28_14_2_04_PM-2From the reactions I’m seeing on Facebook and Twitter, I wasn’t the only one struggling to find the words on this one.

Related Post: So What Do You Do Exactly? An interview with a social worker friend.

Related Post: Complicated feelings about India, terrorism, harassment, gender etc.

 

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“Doesn’t this stuff just make women feel like victims?”

This “stuff” he was asking about was articles like the ones I write for Role/Reboot and the ones I read on sites like Jezebel, XOJane, Salon, Slate, and The Hairpin. This “stuff” calls attention to discrimination and prejudice, to misogyny and hypocrisy.

If women feel like victims after reading “this stuff,” it’s not the article to blame, it’s the need for such an article in the first place. I don’t feel victimized by articles about street harassment; I feel victimized by actual street harassment. The article is the spotlight on the problem, not the problem.

You have three choices: You can pretend it’s all in my head (see: gaslighting), you can pretend what I document is true but not a problem (what even…), or you agree that what I document is true and a problem. We can disagree about how to solve it, but if you can’t even open your eyes to it in the first place, we’re never going to get very far.

More on this idea of “victim-creation” and whiny feminism at Role/Reboot this week:

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Related Post: So this is why people hate feminism

Related Post: Happy 80th Gloria!

 

 

 

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Femimosas Podcast + Newsletter!

Screenshot_8_18_14_2_09_PMLast week I was a guest on the podcast Femimosas (Get it? Feminism + Mimosas = YUM). While drinking copiously, Alicia Swiz, Mikey Mankar and I discussed dating dealbreaker lists, Ray Rice, violence against women prevention, “Nice Guys,” friendzoning, and basically everything else ever.

Oh yeah, there was also a new Rosie Says What newsletter! It contained, among other things, Random Family turns 10, Michele Roberts is the new NBA Players Union head, what it’s like to close a Starbucks at 11pm and open again at 4am.

Don’t get it in your inbox? Sign up here.

 

 

 

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On that Jezebel–>Gawker memo

This week, the staffers at Jezebel published an open letter to their parent company, Gawker Media, taking them to task for failing to protect the employees and readers from violent, rape-themed imagery posted by a rogue commenter. By failing to take the technological steps to prevent this from continuing, or changing the commenting policy site-wide, Gawker has created a hostile work environment for Jezebel staffers. As they say in their letter, if this happened anywhere else, they’d report on it, so why would their own organization be immune?

For Role/Reboot I wrote a bit about company values and that tricky space where the rubber meets the road, i.e. when resources are required to make values-on-paper values-in-reality:

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Related Post: Criticizing Jezebel’s unscientific science writing.

Related Post: A few times I’ve been on Jezebel

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Challenge: Reading off the To-Read Shelf

I’m not buying any books between now and January 1, 2015*. Argh, it hurts just to write that sentence! I have a book buying addiction (which goes part and parcel with my reading addiction); last week I walked out of a used book sale with an actual trash bag full of books. And that was my second used book sale of the weekend.

When I have twenty minutes to kill, I beeline to my favorite bookstore (luckily I live in a place with a dozen really good ones) and I never walk out empty-handed. I’m like a ten-year-old on a road trip who needs a memento from every rest stop.

But books are not stupid keychains or snow globes, you’re lamenting! I know! They are so useful and pretty and full of wonder and adventure and insight! And each one is different! I know, I know, I know! I love them too!

So why am I punishing myself with this book-buying ban? Perhaps more importantly, why am I punishing my local bookstore economy that needs my dollars? Because of the To-Read shelf.

Screenshot_8_5_14_4_16_PM-2There are 84 books on my To-Read shelf. Some of them have traveled with me since I left for college eight years ago. Some of them have seen the insides of two dorm rooms and four different apartments. Some of them have traveled literally around the world in suitcases only to be overlooked because something new and shiny was calling from the English-language table in tiny bookstore in a small town in India.

I want to read my To-Read shelf and I don’t think I can do it without putting a moratorium on new acquisitions. It’s like when you buy a new sweater and all of a sudden it’s your new favorite sweater and all your other sweaters (the ones that used to be your favorites) are crap. The To-Read shelf books always gets pushed down below the fresh-off-the-bookstore-shelf books.

This is hopefully a way of reinvigorating my reading the way purging clothes usually reminds me of things I’ve been meaning to wear but don’t. It will make exciting the things that have been perceived as unexciting for all these years. There’s already a working list in my head of the To-Read books that are rising to the top of the pile (The Color Purple, The Yellow Birds, Maus and Aloft) and I’m genuinely excited to get cracking.

*So what are the rules? There are three exceptions to the No New Books rule. I am allowed to buy:

1. Gifts for other people

2. Books at author signings that I can add to my autographed collection

3. Book club books (though I’ll try the library first)

Why these exceptions? This plan is not about money-saving, though it will probably save me a few bucks along the way. I like spending money in bookstores and supporting the literary infrastructure of my city (or cities in which I’m traveling). These exceptions will allow me to continue supporting that infrastructure without accumulating quite as much stuff, of which I have far too much. They will let me keep participating in the booklover’s economy without overwhelming the To-Read shelf with new arrivals every other freaking day.

I don’t expect the To-Read shelf count to hit zero before New Year’s, but anything less than 84 would be considered a win!

Related Post: The last book I loved: Miss Anne in Harlem

Related Post: My book club is famous.

 

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Fridays are for TWO Newsletters

Every Friday, get the Rosie Says What? weekly newsletter with things to read, events, stuff I like, job postings, etc.

Last week: Roxane Gay + cherries, fashion + politics, standardized test cheating.

This week: OkCupid trends, Nicki Minaj’s butt, Fire Jam yoga, face transplants.Screenshot_2_12_14_1_22_PM-2

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