Wednesday, March 30, 2011

How to Make a Girl Cooperate After You've Abducted Her

Slap her.  That's right - I didn't want to hold you in suspense any longer.  None of this 'teaser sentence' stuff where you are halfway through the blog post before you get the answer that you've been waiting for.

The answer is: slap her.  At least, that's what a new video game, "Duke Nukem Forever" (set to be released in June) is telling its players.  As part of this video "game", you abduct women, and then if they make a fuss (as we women are so prone to doing), you just give her a "reassuring slap".

 Now in case you thought this was just a minor part of the video game (maybe its designers aren't TOTAL misogynistic jerks), you'll feel reassured when you read that Duke Ferris, the Editor-in-Chief at, told one news outlet that "the game is meant to objectify women - that's the point."

Here's what happens: the game begins with the Duke getting "implied oral sex from a set of twins wearing school uniforms".  Solicitation from minors?  Check.  Statutory rape?  Check.  Assertion of patriarchal hegemony?  Check.  Then things get worse.  You get abducted (I'm sorry - when I say "you", I mean the woman in the scene.  Even if I'm playing a video game, I identify more with the female character being assaulted than I do with "my character" on the screen) - so, you get abducted, and shriek.  What does the protagonist have to do?  Why, press a button, and you are slapped.  Other scenes aren't too much better, requiring the player to seek out sex toys and pictures of topless women.

Of course, this isn't the first time we've seen such things in video games.  A few years ago, "RapeLay" (no, I could NOT make up that name) made headlines for giving gamers the opportunity to assault a girl on a train platform, follow her onto the train and assault her again, and then also attack her sister and mother.   The player can even be joined by his friends so that they can all engage in some good old-fashioned male bonding as they stalk and rape these women over and over and over again.  But it's ok, because this particular girl on the platform had earlier accused you, the player, of molesting her, and who doesn't love to see a woman put in her place?

After hearing the outrage from women's groups (there we are making a fuss again), the game was removed from
some store shelves.  But in this day and age, all that means is that it went viral.  Nothing like having sexual assault of female playthings be available (for free in this case) to anyone who's willing to click a button promising they're over 17.

Now let's just clarify something: not all video games are drenched in sexism and misogyny.  One day, I probably will play some Katamari Damacy just for the fun of it.  But unfortunately, too many games do fit this mold.  And even more unfortunately, these games aren't difficult to find, buy, or even download for free.

Sexism in media and pop culture is one thing - and even that's bad enough already as is.  But if I were a young boy exposed to this sort of misogyny on a regular basis, there's a better than even chance that I'd grow up to be a violent rapist, too.  It'd look
something like this (for those who believe such things are rare and women just enjoy kicking up a fuss for no reason).

Plenty of other feminists have picked this story up as well, including Rachel at
Feminist Fatale who has the patience to give more background on the defense offered by the creators and supporters of the game.

So, those who know me know that as much as I love to rant and rave about such things, I love to give people concrete action to take even more.  Here's what to do: Shelby Knox,'s rockstar Director of Organizing for Women's Rights, has launched a petition directed at Wal-Mart demanding that they not sell the game unless the Capture the Babe segment is removed.

As I mentioned earlier, taking the games off store shelves isn't a full proof way of keeping it out of the hands of minors, but it's a start.  We also need to spread the word so that parents know exactly what's in these games and take concrete, firm steps to teach young boys (and girls) the right and wrong ways to think about, interact with, and treat women.

So, tell your friends,
sign the petition, and if you're a parent, for heaven's sake keep these types of video games out of the hands of your kids.  Our lives really are at stake.

This piece was cross-posted at Fem2.0

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Tick Tock of a Young Professional Woman

8:15 AM  I walk up Columbia Road and take note of four men sitting on the stoop and smoking.  They are about 5 yards away.  They haven’t noticed me yet, but they will.  I gauge the odds of their verbally harassing me to be about 2 to1 if I walk past them. (This is something women learn to do early in life – assess the potential threat level of any male in our immediate surroundings.)  I decide to cross the street.  They notice.  They aren’t interested enough to get up and follow me, but they amuse themselves by shouting at me from the stoop.  hey mama, where you goin’ in such a hurry.  why don’t you come back and join us.  show me that pretty smile.  Several people on the sidewalk glance back and forth between us, but then quickly look away.

8:25 AM I slide into a seat on the green line heading downtown.  A half dozen empty sets of seats, but a man sits down next to me anyway.  His leg presses up against mine.  I move away.  It’s a metro car – the seats aren’t large; maybe I’m imagining it.  I feel his leg press against mine again, this time with a little pressure.  I don’t want to call attention to myself by asking him if I can pretty please get up.  I tell myself I’m just imagining it, but I know I’m not.  His leg is still pressing against mine.  At Mount Vernon Square, I mutter an ‘excuse me’ and quickly push my way out to the platform.  I wait, but it’s 9 minutes ‘til the next train will come.  I’m going to be late to work.

12:44 PM:  I walk into the conference room.  My boss is seated with three lobbyists – all middle-aged white men.  One shakes my hand and immediately shortens my name to a familiar and infantilizing Abby instead of Abigail.  I correct him, but flush as he smiles patronizingly at my correction.  Another laughs when he shakes my hand next, saying “well, Abigail, you certainly look very professional today.  Thanks for joining us.”  Black suit, heels, matching pearl jewelry and my hair in a bun.  I want to ask him whether it’s the fact that I’m young or female that makes him so surprised to see that I know how to dress myself, but my boss frowns at me.  I keep my mouth shut.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Banging Chicks: The Language of Violence and Sexuality

Yesterday, my fellow Fem2pt0 blogger Maggie Arden wrote a post called "Words Matter" about the use of language to devalue women. She was right about the idea that our every day language and the portrayal of women even in just the written media contributes to the overall discrimination of women.

But the problem is even more complex than having to check a box on a form indicating whether I'm a Ms. or a Mrs. Something as subtle but as powerful as language is a window into how we perceive half of our population, and also an indicator of the value we place on gender in our society, leading to real life consequences for those on the receiving end of discriminatory verbiage.

The Department of Justice reports that in 2006 alone, there were 233,019 acts of rape, attempted rape, and sexual assault committed against women in the U.S. We know that rape is about power and control, not sex; men are taught to be strong and fierce, while women are supposed to be the passive recipients of that power.

We need only to look at the language we use to talk about sex and gender relations to see the power struggle play out. Men are taught to view their sexuality as a weapon, while women are taught to view their sexuality as a fragile flower, to be protected against the invader. This idea isn't new: Sigmund Freud describes the links between male sexuality and violence in “Symbolism in the Dream”, stating that “[t]he male organ is symbolized by objects that have the characteristic, in common with it, of penetration into the body, and consequent injury, hence pointed weapons of every type, knives, daggers, lances, swords." 

Looking at it from another perspective, language itself is replete with violent imagery when describing relations with women and girls. Examples include phrases such as: “I tried to get her in bed but got shot down”, “he’s always hitting on women," “she’s a knockout," “what a bombshell," etc. These metaphors subtly reinforce the violent nature of gender-based discrimination and sexuality. Even examining a historical wartime context, in the United States, an important aspect of the arms race was phallic worship: in fact, “missile envy” was one of the primary motivating forces in the nuclear build-up. It is interesting to note that the nuclear scientists involved in the development of the atom bomb consistently referred to a successful bomb as a "boy" and a failed attempt as a "girl."

Even today, both the military itself and the arms manufacturers routinely exploit the phallic imagery and promise of sexual domination that their weapons so conveniently suggest. Phrases such as "digging deep," "penetrating the enemy," and countless others used in promotional materials instill an element of sexual domination and conquest to the operations. The idea of one’s forces "penetrating the enemy" is particularly relevant when one considers the value of land and its symbolism in warfare, surrendered as a spoil of war. When one additionally considers that land has traditionally been assigned a feminine identity (i.e. Mother Earth), one can see that this language supports even further the sexualized context of war and plunder. When considering the assigning of gender roles to failed versus successful bomb attempts, it is not difficult to see that the "boy" would have ultimate power of violent domination over female Nature.

It's not just in our words that such messages are being passed on either: think of the mutilated and dead women replete in Kanye West's "Monster" video. Melinda Reist writes that "this is the message they are imbibing... that men are brutal and dominant, and men enjoy dead women as sex and entertainment. The female body is to be devoured, reduced to the same status as meat." So even the images we are surrounded by every day reinforce the ties between violence and sexuality.

So the question is, why does any of this matter? And the answer is, because gender discrimination is not just a question of what is in our laws and on our books. We are moving ever closer towards gender justice and equity, but part of that movement is recognizing where and how discrimination and devaluation exists. And here in our culture and our society, our language perpetuates the idea that men are sexually violent aggressors seeking to dominate and control passive and fragile women.

As Maggie pointed out yesterday: words matter.  We can change all the laws and all the policies we want, but gender discrimination and violence against women are destroying the lives of millions of women and girls all over the world every day.  So the next time you want to encourage a friend to "bang a girl," think about what message you are sending, and what it says about how you value the women in your life.

Monday, March 7, 2011

This is a Song

This is a song for the birds that do not sing
for the overstuffed breasts and the deeply cut wings
for the cows who were too fat to kill yesterday
but who were captured and shipped off anyway
to die a brutal death
for the song of the dinner table.

This is a song for the tears that are shed
for those who sleep in fear and wake in dread
chained all day to iron posts
a little bit alive but mostly dead
clasping their hands and their hearts together
praying and hoping to become birds of a feather
dear god, make me a bird so i can fly far far away

This is a song for the birds that do not sing
for the man and woman who fight and die
bc there’s twice as much talking as there is listening
for the whales that cry into the dark of the night
their screaming voices blending with the blood in the water
as they are carried up into the light.
for the buffalo massacred across their homeland
stripped of their hides and sold by those
who stuff and scalp and torture and refuse to understand
the notes of the song of the bird that does not sing
the bird who is trapped and tied and destined for a life of suffering
those who no one hears wail into the peace of the night
the silence engulfing the pain in their plight
this is a song for that silence

This is a song for the silence of the lamb
for the betrayal and the disappearance of faith
for those whose hearts and minds are trapped at the gate
unable to break the bonds of captivity
not wanting to see whats beyond their ability
captured by the limitations of their eyes
not realizing that faith and love are nurtured inside
looking everywhere, no idea where to start
but the end of the last one
is the beginning of the next one
and your prayers and your dreams gotta come from the heart
otherwise whats the point
no pain no gain, ain’t that the truth

This is a song for the birds that cannot sing
because theyre overstuffed with mcdonalds and burger king
the largest market magazines trying to buy
more this bigger that greater fish to fry
but one day you realize its all just words
and all that 'stuff' you wish for just sounds absurd.
this is a song for the almighty advertising industry of America.

This is a song for the you and for the me
only with greed and with hate are we trained to see
nothings ever enough
always wanting more stuff
who are taught to take it from?
but all thats a changing
as our hearts and minds are fiercely escaping
choosing for ourselves how we want this world to be
setting first ourselves then other life forms free
reaching for our goals
making our ignorance and fear and hate unroll
into the darkness
where its supposed to be
and where its end will be beginning

as our joy and freedom dance
to the tune of the songs
of the birds that sing