[Content note: sexual assault]
My latest Daily Dot piece is about Madonna and Drake’s kiss at Coachella.
When Madonna took Drake by surprise with a kiss during their Coachellaperformance, the pop singer made waves on the Internet, provoking discomfort and disgust. Some of it was because Madonna is “old,” while others argued Drake’s reaction suggested a lack of consent.
However, on Tuesday, the Canadian rapper responded on his Instagram, clarifying that he had no problem with what happened and thanking Madonna for the impromptu make-out session:
In a Daily Dot piece, I wrote about why people (looking at you especially, white feminists) need to stop telling Jessica Williams what to do and diagnosing her with things.
For many fans of Comedy Central’s The Daily Show, disappointment at the news that Jon Stewart will soon be stepping down as host was overshadowed almost immediately by excitement at the idea that 25-year-old Jessica Williams, the show’s youngest-ever correspondent, might take over. A Change.org petition asking Comedy Central to hire her as hostquickly gathered over 14,000 signatures.
Williams responded graciously, thanking her fans for their support but letting them know that she will not be hosting the program:
Fact 1: I’m not hosting. Thank you but I am extremely under-qualified for the job!
— Jessica R. Williams (@msjwilly) February 16, 2015
At this age (25) if something happens politically that I don’t agree with, I need to go to my room & like not come out for, like, 7 days. — Jessica R. Williams (@msjwilly) February 16, 2015
That being said I am super not right for it, but there are quite a few people who are! Can’t wait to stick around & see what happens.
— Jessica R. Williams (@msjwilly) February 16, 2015
At that point, everyone collectively said “Aw, too bad, can’t wait to see more of your work!” and left Williams alone. I’m joking, obviously. That’s not what happened, because if there’s anything we love to do in our society, it’s telling women—especially women of color—what to do. Bonus points if we demand that they perform for us the way we want them to. Instead, Ester Bloom wrote a piece for the Billfold in which she armchair-diagnosed Williams with “impostor syndrome,” what Bloom describes as “a well-documented phenomenon in which men look at their abilities vs the requirements of a job posting and round up, whereas women do the same and round down, calling themselves ‘unqualified.'” Bloom argued that Williams was displaying “clear symptoms” of the syndrome and that she should get to “the best Lean In group of all time.” Williams responded on Twitter:
I am a black woman and I am a feminist and I am so many things. I am truly honored that people love my work. But I am not yours.
— Jessica R. Williams (@msjwilly) February 17, 2015
No offense, but Lean the Fuck away from me for the next couple of days. I need a minute.
— Jessica R. Williams (@msjwilly) February 17, 2015
To her credit, Bloom then apologized, adding to her post:
I wanted to state officially and for the record, as I have on Twitter, that I was wrong. I was offensive and presumptuous; I messed up, and I’m sorry. Williams should not have had to deal with this shit: my calling her a “victim” of anything, my acting like I know better and could diagnose her with anything, all of it.
So what happened here? How did Bloom go so self-admittedly wrong?
Read the rest here.
[Content note: child sexual abuse]
I wrote a piece for the Daily Dot about actor Stephen Collins, who had admitted to sexually abusing three girls several decades ago.
After actor Stephen Collins released a statement to People last week about his past molestation of three underage girls, Rosie O’Donnell, once his friend, responded with a poem eviscerating the former 7th Heaven star and describing her own experiences of abuse. In the poem, she wrote, “in case u wonder / what ur man sized penis – / ur abuse of power / ur lack of impulse control did to that kid / i will tell u a bit about me / sex is not fun / not now / not ever / it is married to a lingering terror.”
When someone is this sincere in his efforts to address his shortcomings, and has twenty years of clean personal behavior behind him, shouldn’t we support him…and forgive him? He has been in personal hell for decades over this; there is no need for further punishment. He has handled everything in the right way, including not apologizing directly to two of his victims, which could reopen old wounds for them. Clearly, 20 years of restraint and no repetition of his inappropriate sexual behavior shows that he is holding himself accountable.
In a number of ways, the Stephen Collins‘ case is different from most other cases of famous men harassing, assaulting, or abusing women. First of all, it came to light not because Collins was caught or accused by someone else, but because he admitted it—at least, initially. Second, unlike many sex offenders, Collins has not been denying any wrongdoing, but rather working to address the roots of his behavior in therapy. Third, Collins then shared his own story of being victimized by an adult as a child. While it’s not uncommon for abusers to have been abused themselves, few of them speak out about it—perhaps because they do not realize that they were abused and, therefore, do not understand that their own actions constitute abuse as well.
In discussing the woman who repeatedly exposed herself to him, Collins shows a high degree of self-knowledge. He states that he’s not “blaming” the woman or using her as an “excuse,” but rather attempting to show how his attitudes and beliefs developed in such a way that led him to perpetuate sexual abuse against others. In an interview this past Friday, Collins said:
That [experience] distorted my perception in such a way that some part of me felt—I never felt like I was molested. That word never crossed my mind as a 10 to 15-year-old boy. It was a very intense experience—I think somewhere in my brain I got the equation that, ‘Well, this isn’t so terrible. This person who I trust is doing it.’… I think that’s an aspect that went into my own distorted thinking as a young man.
While I understand why people are hearing this as an attempt to excuse away Collins’ behavior, I hear it differently. Explaining why someone has done a bad thing isn’t the same thing as saying that it was OK for them to do, or that it was someone else’s fault that they did it. We do not grow and act in a vacuum, and although it is our responsibility to reevaluate the wrong and sometimes dangerous beliefs we are taught as children, we must also stop such things from being taught to children to begin with. Understanding how someone develops the belief that these actions are not abuse is important if we are to prevent others from developing it in the future, and it’s rare that we get to hear such an insightful and self-aware explanation of how someone comes to abuse others. Perhaps Collins has therapy to thank for that.
Read the rest here.
My latest Daily Dot piece is about (male) actor/performance artist Shia LaBeouf’s claim that he was raped during an art piece.
What’s the worst thing that could happen if you believe that Shia LaBeouf was raped?
I ask because plenty of people seem entirely unwilling to entertain that idea. For example:
Shia LaBeouf’s claim to have been ‘raped’ is truly pathetic & demeans real rape victims. Grow up, you silly little man.
— Piers Morgan (@piersmorgan) November 28, 2014
It’s unclear how exactly believing a survivor “demeans” other survivors. There is not a limited amount of empathy and concern in the world. You can care about survivors like LaBeouf and you can care about survivors who look and act like whatever you think survivors should look and act like.
Some people have said that they can’t believe LaBeouf because he’s an “unreliable narrator.” I was initially tempted to look up and comment briefly on the actor’s apparent history of twisting the truth, but then I realized that it absolutely doesn’t matter. Everyone lies, albeit to varying extents, and lying about rape in particular is so rare that I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt even if he has lied about other things before.
At the Guardian, Daily Dot contributor Lindy West writes:
A victim doesn’t have to be relatable or reliable or likable or ‘normal’–or even a good person–for you to believe them. You can be utterly baffled by someone’s every move and still take their victimization seriously. LaBeouf’s bizarre behavior and his sexual violation are in no way mutually exclusive, nor are the latter and his gender. ‘He was asking for it.’ ‘Why didn’t he fight back?’ ‘Why didn’t he say ‘no’?’ ‘He must have wanted it.’ ‘He seems crazy.’ These are flat-out unacceptable things to say to a person of any gender.
Others have pointed out that LaBeouf did not resist the alleged rape. Some of them acknowledge that survivors often “freeze” and are physically unable to resist, but claim that because LaBeouf has stated that for him the reason was that he did not want to compromise his performance art piece, then it’s not “really” rape.
I will grant that this may seem confusing. After all, if he was ableto stop the rape but didn’t, how is it still rape? If he allowed it to happen “for art’s sake,” isn’t that the same as wanting it to happen?
It’s pretty simple, and thinking of rape in terms of affirmative consent may help. Did LaBeouf make it absolutely clear that he wanted this woman to have sex with him? Did he verbally or nonverbally indicate that in a way that would be unmistakable?
No, he didn’t.
Read the rest here.
My newest Daily Dot piece is up. It’s about Don Lemon’s inappropriate remarks to Joan Tarshis about her allegations against Bill Cosby, and how we can do better.
As allegations that Bill Cosby raped 15 different women continue to ripple through the Internet and the entertainment world—spurred, perhaps, by the fact that a man finally signal-boosted them—controversial CNN news anchor Don Lemon wants to know: Why didn’t accuser Joan Tarshis simply bite Cosby’s penis to avoid being coerced into giving him oral sex?
This, apparently, was the question on Lemon’s mind as he listened to Tarshis’s story.
Lemon later apologized, stating that he “never want[ed] to suggest that any victim could have prevented a rape.” While this is notable, unfortunately, that’s exactly what was suggested.
While Lemon’s question, which he claimed that he “had to ask,” stands out in its graphic inappropriateness, it’s a common practice to ask survivors of sexual assault why they didn’t “just” this or “simply” that. Whether it comes from prurient interest or supposed concern, many people who try to discuss sexual assault with survivors get caught up in the details of what the survivor could have theoretically, in a perfect universe, if they had thought of it in time rather than experiencing (as many victims do) too much fear or shock, done to prevent the assault.
First of all, it is not the responsibility of people targeted by sexual assault to prevent said assault. The fact that this still needs to be repeated, over and over, is disgraceful.
Second, there are many more survivors than there are rapists, and rapists get away with it because they are rarely held responsible for their actions.
Throughout history, the responsibility for preventing sexual assault has been placed on the shoulders of its potential victims. People like Don Lemon have probably been giving women these “tips” for millennia. Yet it hasn’t seemed to do any good. Isn’t it about time to try something else?
Maybe Lemon should be giving us some tips on how to hold powerful men accountable instead. Here’s a start.
1) Recognize celebrities have power.
In general, people seem to be pretty bad at thinking of social dynamics in terms of power. Many have trouble understanding the fact that white people and men have excess power in our society, for instance.
So do celebrities of any gender, and male celebrities especially. People who are so widely and strongly admired and valued wield a tremendous amount of influence without even intending to. When they do intend to, it gets even stronger.
This is especially true when a celebrity has something a non-celebrity wants—like fame, access, and opportunities. Many (if not all) of the women who have accused Bill Cosby of rape were young aspiring entertainers to whom Cosby offered mentorship. When people dismiss their allegations because some of them took a long time to come forward, ask yourself—what would it take to get you to destroy what might be your only shot at the career you want? Would accusing a famous, beloved man of sexual assault—and probably being dismissed, harassed, or even threatened as a result—really seem worthwhile?
Men like Cosby know this. They know that they have the power to make or break these young women’s chances in the industry. They know that they will be allowed to get away with it. And so they keep doing it.
Read the rest here.
[Content note: child sexual abuse]*
My Daily Dot piece about Lena Dunham went up yesterday, but I was out walking 14 miles of Manhattan so I didn’t have time to link it here. This was published before Dunham released her statement, which partially (but not nearly entirely) addresses some of my concerns.
Lena Dunham’s recently released memoir, Not That Kind of Girl, has stirred up a lot of controversy, and probably not the controversy that Dunham hoped to stir up.
Several passages in the book detail the Girls creator and actress’ childhood sexual experimentation with her sister, Grace, who is six years younger. After a conservative writer quoted the passages and accused Dunham of sexual abuse, the internet exploded.
The passages describe Lena Dunham playing with her sister’s vagina when Dunham was seven and her sister was one year old. She also writes about bribing her sister with candy so that she could kiss her on the lips and masturbating in bed next to her. Their mother was aware of at least some of the behavior, but apparently didn’t think much of it. “My mother didn’t bother asking why I had opened Grace’s vagina,” she writes. “This was within the spectrum of things I did.”
Not all of Dunham’s critics have been conservative columnists, however. Many women, especially women of color, have been active on Twitter, discussing the passages and how they exemplify the abuse that others have faced in childhood. These critics have started a hashtag called #DropDunham, calling on Planned Parenthood to end its partnership with her:
— Lauren Chief Elk (@ChiefElk) November 3, 2014
#DropDunham because having her as a face of anti-violence & “feminism” validates, excuses, dismisses, and encourages her predatory behavior
— Molly Grüesome (@mizblossom) November 3, 2014
Meanwhile, others think there’s nothing wrong with Dunham’s actions:
My little sister and I took baths together until we were 5 & 6. Pretty sure we examined each other’s junk closely. Sheesh. #LenaDunham
— Dan Savage (@fakedansavage) November 2, 2014
if yr denunciation of Lena Dunham for being an “abuser” includes transparent envy of her career and privilege, you MAYBE invalidate yr point — Emily Gould (@EmilyGould) November 4, 2014
[…]Did Lena Dunham abuse her sister? That depends on a lot of things, some of which we may not know without getting more information. However, there are a number of things about Dunham’s behavior as she describes it herself that bring up red flags.
Read the rest here.
*Although I personally avoided definitively labeling Lena Dunham’s actions as child sexual abuse, I included this content note out of respect for those who consider it such and find it triggering.
[Content note: mental illness, ableism]
I wrote a piece for the Daily Dot about the gleeful speculations about Amanda Bynes’ supposed mental illness.
Former child star Amanda Bynes hasn’t been having a good month. After being arrested for DUI in California, Bynes left her family and made her way to New York City, where she’s attempted to shoplift clothing twice, which she claims was a “misunderstanding.”
Bynes also gave an interview to In Touch magazine in which she apparently said that she believes there’s a microchip implanted in her brain that allows people to read her thoughts. She later made a series of tweets claiming that the interview was fake and that she will sue the magazine for calling her “insane.” Celebrity gossip websites have, of course, taken this story and run with it, speculating about Bynes’ mental health and diagnoses and treating the situation like a spectator sport.
Even if Bynes really did tell In Touch that she believes she has a microchip implanted in her brain that allows people to read her thoughts, that doesn’t mean it’s okay to call her “insane” or “crazy,” and I’m not surprised she’s angry about it. Words like that don’t just mean “displaying symptoms of a mental illness.” They connote ridicule, ignorance, and sometimes even hate.
They also place people with mental illnesses in a category apart from the rest of us, the ones who aren’t “crazy.” In fact, mental illnesses exist on a spectrum. Some people have a a few hallucinations or delusions during a time of extreme stress (or perhaps sleep deprivation). For others, psychotic symptoms are a struggle they must manage for their entire lives.
Are all of these people “crazy?” Is everyone who has ever had a random and totally irrational thought “crazy?” Is everyone who takes medication for anxiety, depression, or bipolar disorder “crazy?” Words like “crazy” and “insane” do not refer to any specific set or level of symptoms. They refer to someone we wish to hurt, ostracize, or laugh at.
How do you report a story like Bynes’ without perpetuating the stigma that people with mental illnesses face?
For starters, recognize that some things are newsworthy whether the person who did them is a celebrity or not; others are newsworthy only when they’re done by someone we’re already paying attention to—or used to pay attention to. People get DUIs and shoplift all the time, but when a famous person does it, that suddenly becomes a reason to write an entire news story. Someone having delusions is also not in and of itself interesting to the public—although, in a way, I wish it were, because maybe then people would know more about it and stigmatize those who struggle with it less.
Obviously, journalists have to make money. Sometimes that means writing stuff that sells, whether or not you personally think that this information is important to collect and provide to the public. However, oftentimes journalists—especially those who cover celeb news—shrug off all responsibility for choosing their subject matter by claiming that it’s “just what sells” or “what the people want.”
Read the rest here.
I wrote a Daily Dot piece about the threats (so far non-substantiated) to leak nude photos of Emma Watson as “punishment” for her UN speech about feminism.
Even worse than seeing women’s privacy violated on social media is reading the accompanying comments that show such a lack of empathy.
— Emma Watson (@EmWatson) September 1, 2014
Unfortunately, she may be about to experience that for herself. Watson recently gave a moving speech to the United Nations about gender equality and why men should care about it. Speaking on behalf of a campaign called HeForShe, she reiterated what feminism means, what rights feminists fight for, and how men are hurt by gender stereotypes, too.
The speech went viral, but not everyone liked it. Anti-feminist 4chan users and redditors whined. A site called Emma You Are Next, launched by a group of prolific Internet hoax artists, counted down to midnight on Sept. 24, when nude photos of the star would allegedly leak. Originally, the website read, “Never forget, the biggest to come thus far,” alluding to the Celebgate photo scandal. Later that sentence was removed and replaced with an updated date and time for the leak.
On 4chan, users raved:
It is real and going to happen this weekend. That feminist bitch Emma is going to show the world she is as much of a whore as any woman.
She makes stupid feminist speeches at UN, and now her nudes will be online, HAHAHAHAHAHAHAH
The threats against Emma Watson stand as a stark counterpoint to the discussions that followed the original nude photo leak. Women, we were informed, just need to be “smart” and “careful” about their online presence. Deleting nude photos is no longer enough; we must not even take them to begin with, because someone could always find a way to hack into our iCloud accounts and steal them.
It is “only natural,” we were told, for men to seek out nude photos of famous beautiful women and share them with other men. It’s “just what happens” what you choose to “put yourself out there,” you see.
Yet there’s a long history of sex-related violence and exploitation being used intentionally as punishment against people, especially women, who step out of line. It’s not “just what happens,” it’s not “only natural,” like getting electrocuted if you touch a live wire. It’s done on purpose to deter people from doing things that make men feel threatened, or to take one’s anger out on them once they’ve done it.
The threats against Emma Watson are just the latest example of this. A few hackers didn’t like what she had to say about feminism. They didn’t like that a woman was able to access a platform so noteworthy. They didn’t like that her speech was so well-received and went so viral. They didn’t like that a “feminist bitch” was being heard. So they threatened to retaliate. Read the rest here. After it became clear this morning that no nude photos were released, I tweeted some stuff:
So, in light of that, let’s keep the discussion in the comments focused on the issue at hand.
[Content note: domestic violence and abuse]
I wrote a Daily Dot piece about how journalists and pundits can do a better job of covering stories about domestic violence.
Until I read Michael Powell’s recent New York Times column about suspended Baltimore Ravens player Ray Rice, I had no idea that domestic violence could possibly be delivered in a “professional” manner. Powell cleared that up:
Say this for Ray Rice: His left cross was of professional quality, a short, explosive punch. And his fiancée’s head snapped back as if she’d been shot.
You watch that video and you get the national freakout.
Domestic violence is a difficult subject to talk about sensitively. Humor, blame, unsolicited advice, speculation—these are all ways in which people try to ease the discomfort of confronting such a serious thing head-on. But they don’t necessarily lead to a productive or respectful discussion.
In honor of Michael Powell, Brian Kilmeade, and every other journalist and pundit who can’t seem to cover this issue appropriately, here are some guidelines to keep in mind when you write about or discuss domestic violence.
1) Extend the benefit of the doubt to the survivor.
When someone is accused of domestic violence or sexual assault, we are always asked by that person’s fans and defenders to “give them the benefit of the doubt.” Generally, this means, “Assume the survivor is lying or very confused” or “Assume the accused had a good reason to do what they did.”
How about giving the benefit of the doubt to the survivor?
Believe the survivor. Assume they are telling the truth unless there’s actually good evidence that they aren’t, because the vast majority of these types of accusations are not false. Assume that they are speaking out because they want safety and justice, not just because they want to “ruin” their abuser’s life or career.
Assume the survivor stayed with their abuser for as long as they did because abusers deliberately make it difficult or even impossible to leave, not because the survivor is somehow weak, stupid, or incompetent.
Assume the survivor was quite aware of the danger that they (and possibly their children) were in and doesn’t need to be patronizingly informed that staying with an abuser can be dangerous. So can trying to leave.
Assume the survivor is the best authority on their own experience.
2) Avoid speculation.
Whenever there’s a high-profile domestic abuse case, journalists and commenters alike love to speculate. Why did the abuser abuse? Why didn’t the survivor leave? What happened to either of them in their childhood that could’ve led to this? Why didn’t the survivor’s family help? Why would the survivor have been attracted to their abuser in the first place?
This amateur psychoanalysis is not useful. At best, it’s a distraction from the important questions: How do we help the survivor? How do we make sure this never happens again? At worst, it spreads misinformation and stereotypes. People especially enjoy speculating about what the survivor might have done to “provoke” the abuse. Did they cheat? Dress “inappropriately?” Say something mean?
Abuse cannot be “provoked.” Abusers know what they’re doing, and they do it intentionally. They may wait for something to happen that they can then attribute the abuse to, but that’s not the same as being “provoked.”
Read the rest here.
I wrote an article for the Daily Dot about Spirit Airlines’ tasteless joke about the stolen celebrity nude photos.
As the Internet continues to debate whether or not it’s acceptable to hack into someone’s online account, steal nude photos of them, and spread them all over the Internet without their consent (spoiler: it’s not), Spirit Airlines decided to take advantage of the buzz by sending its customers the following promotional email yesterday morning:
The email, which had a subject line that said, “Our Selfie Leaked Too…,” read in part:
We feel naked; you were never supposed to see this Bare Fare! It was meant for a special someone (who isn’t you). Now it’s all over the Internet for you to take advantage of as you see fit. Scandalous! We thought the cloud was our friend, y’know, because we spend so much time flying with ’em. But now our private prices are on display! Bad for us; GREAT for you.
The joke makes light of the experience of having private photos stolen and disseminated for hundreds of thousands of people to leer at, perpetuates the idea that this is a “scandal” rather than a crime and an act of violation, and implies that something “GREAT” happens when someone else’s privacy is violated. Yeah, sure, it’s “just a joke.” But I’m not laughing.
Contrast Spirit Airlines with the Prostate Cancer Foundation, which stood to profit from the stolen nude photos in a much more direct way. Users on the subreddit r/TheFappening, which has been disseminating the photos, set up a fundraiser for the foundation as a “joke,” based on the myth that masturbation helps prevent prostate cancer and the Reddit users are masturbating a lot, so, hey, why not donate to help prevent prostate cancer even more.
A post appeared on Reddit late Monday afternoon, September 1, 2014. A Reddit user directed other Reddit users to make a donation to the Prostate Cancer Foundation without the Foundation’s knowledge. We would never condone raising funds for cancer research in this manner. Out of respect for everyone involved and in keeping with our own standards, we are returning all donations that resulted from this post.
Read the rest here.