Problems with commenting

WordPress has pushed out a lot of security updates recently, and one of these appears to have broken our commenting template, hiding the “Submit” button so that none of your comments are coming through.

I’m going to change the main Feministe theme temporarily to a standard WordPress template until they’ve sorted out all these security updates, and then I’ll make the site look all familiar again.

Posted in Admin | Tagged | 3 Comments

The pressing question of Scarlett Johansson’s underwear

In honor of today’s U.S. release of Avengers: Age of Ultron (since we don’t do sequel numbers now, just subheads), I thought I’d share an interview with Scarlett Johansson about the nuances of her character, the Black Widow, in light of her backstory as an orphan, trafficked as a young child, brainwashed and forced into service but now using the skills that were imposed upon her for an arguably, but not entirely, noble cause.

J/K! It’s about whether or not she can wear underwear under her tight costume, courtesy of Extra interviewer Jerry Penacoli. Because the public has a right to know. And while this is a video of a female celebrity being asked an inappropriate, intrusive question by a representative of a national entertainment news franchise, I like to think of it also as a commentary on the human condition. Because who among us hasn’t encountered the guy who…

… thinks there might be a polite, appropriate way to ask us about your underpants in a professional setting?

JERRY PENACOLI. Now, were you able to wear undergarments with your —

SCARLETT JOHANSSON. You’re, like, the fifth person to ask me that today.

JP. Well, no, because —

SJ. What is going on? What — since when did people start asking each other about — in interviews about their underwear?

JP. No! No, because it is such a skintight — Here’s why.

SJ. I’ll leave it up to your imagination. Okay?

JP. See? Is that…

SJ. Whatever you feel I should be wearing — or not wearing under that costume is what I…

And then he tries to convince you you’re silly for being offended?

JP. This is not — It — It — Well…

SJ. Well?

JP. Is it inappropriate?

SJ. To ask somebody what kind of underpants they wear?

JP. I didn’t ask you what kind.

SJ. You just asked me if I was wearing any.

JP. Could you. Could you.

JEREMY RENNER. No, what do you wear under underneath?

JP. Could you. Like, what do you wear underneath something like that?

SJ. Overalls.

JP. Do you wear clothes?

SJ. You wear dungarees. You can’t wear clothes under it. It’s like a — it’s like a wetsuit.

And then thinks he’s all clever and has caught you out?

JP. Okay.

SJ. Practically.

JP. Okay. So you answered my question.

SJ. Well, I don’t know. Maybe it’s a little bit more than a wetsuit. Was I wearing underwear? I mean, gosh. I mean, ask Joss.

And then reveals that he asked your boss about your underpants?

JP. I did! I did ask him, and he said —

SJ. You asked Joss what kind of underwear he wears?

JP. No! No, no! I asked —

SJ. What kind of interview is this?!

(Okay, that one might be a little less universal.)

And then finally, he gives up on your underpants and just starts talking with your male companion about “man” stuff?

JP. This is the movie that people have been waiting for. Because anybody who has seen any of the other Marvel films, now this is sort of like the — you know, it’s, it’s the culmination.

SJ. It’s the grandaddy.

JP. It’s the grandaddy! Right?

JR. The movie’s so darn big that you don’t even — You just hope you, like, just do your part.

SJ. I understand you — you got hurt pretty badly, though. How’d you do that?

JR. Fighting her.

JP. Oh!

JR. And I hurt myself.

SJ. I think I also —

JR. I think, like, my bowstring got caught in my belt, or something, and I twisted my neck wrong… It was really…

SJ. When you, like, dislocate a shoulder taking off your socks.

JP. So you didn’t hurt him.

JR. No, she didn’t hurt me. [to Johansson] Yeah, exactly.

SJ. It’s really, like, not a good story at all.

JP. Twisting your neck, or you…

JR. Yeah, totally.

JP. Oh, man.

“Oh, man” is one way of putting it.

Posted in Celebrity, Feminism, Movies | 1 Comment

Links: In, around, and about Baltimore (Updated 5/1)

[Content note for police violence]

Update: Today, Baltimore chief prosecutor Marilyn Mosby announced that Freddie Gray’s death has been ruled a homicide and his detention and arrest ruled illegal. The six officers involved in his arrest are charged with (assortedly) offenses including involuntary manslaughter, vehicular manslaughter (gross and criminal), second degree assault, false imprisonment, misconduct in office, and, for the driver of the van, second degree depraved heart murder. Warrants have been issued for all.

Previously: In the wake of Freddie Gray’s death from injuries mysteriously sustained while in police custody two weeks ago, and following his funeral yesterday, people in Baltimore have protested — some of it peaceful, much of it, as of Monday afternoon, violent, and with staggering consequence. Now, as the community comes back out into their neighborhoods, peaceful protesters continue to gather to voice their frustrations, and a lot of other people have things to say, too.

At The Atlantic, Ta-Nehisi Coates writes about calls for calm in the protests in Baltimore.

What specifically was the crime here? What particular threat did Freddie Gray pose? Why is mere eye contact and then running worthy of detention at the hands of the state? Why is Freddie Gray dead?

The people now calling for nonviolence are not prepared to answer these questions. Many of them are charged with enforcing the very policies that led to Gray’s death, and yet they can offer no rational justification for Gray’s death and so they appeal for calm. But there was no official appeal for calm when Gray was being arrested. There was no appeal for calm when Jerriel Lyles was assaulted. (“The blow was so heavy. My eyes swelled up. Blood was dripping down my nose and out my eye.”) There was no claim for nonviolence on behalf of Venus Green. (“Bitch, you ain’t no better than any of the other old black bitches I have locked up.”) There was no plea for peace on behalf of Starr Brown. (“They slammed me down on my face,” Brown added, her voice cracking. “The skin was gone on my face.”)

Edward Bowser writes for about the Martin Luther King quote frequently repeated in the past couple of days, that “riot is the language of the unheard.”

The quote was lifted from a CBS interview with Mike Wallace on Sept. 27, 1966, in which King discussed a vocal minority of protesters who saw violence as the only means to battle civil unrest. King empathized with their pain, explaining to America that a riot is, indeed, the language of those without a voice.

Fifty years later, the unheard are speaking out again.

For decades, Baltimore has been a deeply segregated city, with much of the rioting confined to a neighborhood where a third of families live in poverty. They’ve struggled in silence. The family and supporters of Freddie Gray can relate to that frustration – for weeks, they’ve patiently waited for answers in Gray’s death.

No indictment. No explanation. Seemingly no compassion from law enforcement. Nothing but silence.

True to King’s words, the unheard are now speaking in brutal fashion.

But there’s much more to King’s 1966 interview, which begins with these words:

“I will never change in my basic idea that nonviolence is the most potent weapon available to the Negro in his struggle for freedom and justice. I think for the Negro to turn to violence would be both impractical and immoral.”

The Huffington Post’s Julia Craven talks with WGN radio about her observations from the ground. At HuffPo, she recounts how the rioting started in Baltimore, and continues to give a view from the community in Baltimore via Twitter.

Posted in Crime, Law, Racism | Tagged , , | 5 Comments

Shameless Self-Promotion Sunday

Promote yourself.

Netiquette reminders:

  • Want to recommend someone else’s writing instead? Try the latest signal-boosting thread.
  • we expect Content Notes as a courtesy to our readers for problematic content in linked posts and/or their comment threads (a habit of posting only triggering/disparaging links may annoy the Giraffe (you really don’t want to annoy the Giraffe)), Content Notes are not needed if your post title is already descriptive of problematic content.
  • extended discussion of self-promotion links on this thread is counter-productive for the intended signal-boosting –  the idea is for the promoted sites to get more traffic.  If it’s a side-discussion that would be off-topic/unwelcome/distressing on the other site, take it to #spillover after leaving a note on this thread redirecting others there.
Posted in General | Tagged , | 3 Comments

Open Thread with Toppled Pole

This highway-blocking blown-down power pole that happened just down the road from me features for this week’s Open Thread. Please natter/chatter/vent/rant on anything* you like over this weekend and throughout the week.

Hours of traffic blocked during the severe storms that hit the coast of New South Wales this week

Hours of traffic blocked during the severe storms that hit the coast of New South Wales this week

So, what have you been up to? What would you rather be up to? What’s been awesome/awful?
Reading? Watching? Making? Meeting?
What has [insert awesome inspiration/fave fansquee/guilty pleasure/dastardly ne’er-do-well/threat to all civilised life on the planet du jour] been up to?

* Netiquette footnotes:
* There is no off-topic on the Weekly Open Thread, but consider whether your comment would be on-topic on any recent thread and thus better belongs there.
* If your comment touches on topics known to generally result in thread-jacking, you will be expected to take the discussion to #spillover instead of overshadowing the social/circuit-breaking aspects of this thread.

Posted in Life, Politics, Popular Culture, The Cultural Canon | Tagged | 7 Comments

Cop who killed Rekia Boyd acquitted of all charges

Chicago police detective Dante Servin has been found not guilty of involuntary manslaughter in the death of Rekia Boyd. A Cook County Circuit Court Judge Dennis Porter ruled that the state had failed to prove recklessness on Servin’s part after he fired his unregistered handgun over his shoulder from inside his car into a dark alley, hitting Boyd in the back of the head.

Reading his seven-page ruling from the bench, the judge said there was no dispute that Servin had intended to kill Cross, but under the involuntary manslaughter law, prosecutors had to prove he acted recklessly in the legal sense of the word.

“It is easy to say, ‘Of course the defendant was reckless. He intentionally shot in the direction of a group of people on the sidewalk. That is really dangerous … and in fact Rekia Boyd was killed. Case closed,’ ” Porter wrote. “It is easy to think that way, but it is wrong.”

That’s because Illinois law says that intentionally firing a gun at someone on the street “is an act that is so dangerous it is beyond reckless,” Porter wrote. “It is intentional and the crime, if any there be, is first-degree murder.”

Porter acknowledged that it was “perhaps even unfortunate” that neither side would have “closure” on whether Servin was justified in opening fire that night, but he said he had no choice under the law but to dismiss the charges.

In short: Servin might have been guilty of first-degree murder, just not involuntary manslaughter, so he goes free and will shortly be reinstated to active police duty.

In March of 2012, Boyd and three friends were walking to a store near Chicago’s Douglas Park when Servin, off duty at the time, told the group to quiet down. Words were exchanged, and then Servin fired five shots at the group from inside his car. Boyd was killed, and her boyfriend, Antonio Cross, was grazed in the thumb. Servin later said that he feared for his life and claimed to see Cross pull a gun from his waistband and point it at him, and that he heard a gunshot and felt “something” on the back of his head before he started shooting. Police never found a weapon, and Cross says he was holding a cell phone.

Speaking to reporters at the courthouse after his acquittal, Servin said, “Any reasonable person, any police officer especially, would’ve reacted in the exact same manner that I reacted. And I’m glad to be alive. I saved my life that night. I’m glad that I’m not a police death statistic. Antonio Cross is a would-be cop killer, and that’s all I have to say.”

He also said, “I think it was a mistake for the state’s attorney to charge me. But I also explained to the family, if this is what they needed for closure, to be charged, I hope they got what they’re looking for.”

Posted in Crime, Law, Racism | Tagged | 11 Comments

Debunking trolls during Sexual Assault Awareness Month…

If you live in the States and believe rape is a serious issue, you likely know April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, which has been around since the eighties – albeit ignored by most politicians, until filthy liberal Obama became the first president to treat rape as a serious issue. And whilst plenty of aspiring sociopaths think women deserve rape, the majority of civilised folks believe preventing rape is a good thing. But what happens when pro-rape trolls make the jump from spewing misogyny online, to harassing advocates and survivors at campus events?

Granted, most trolls lack the backbone to attack others without a cloak of anonymity to shield them from consequences. Yet more brazen trolls aren’t without precedent, like the ones who oppose Take Back the Night rallies with “you deserve rape” signs. One troll graced our recent campus tabling event, marching from table to table, claiming the event was a sexist attack on men, demanding to know why nobody would answer his questions about false rape accusations. (Most tablers thought they were being punk’d and shrugged him off, which didn’t help his attitude.)

Then he came to our table and, well, it didn’t end well for him. After a few minutes, his girlfriend (or whoever was standing with him) pulled him away from our table, before he could embarrass himself further.

For those who may find themselves in similar situations this month and need an entertaining survival guide – or who simply want an idea of how our conversation went – this post is for you. Just remember these responses hurt more when you deliver them with a smile!

Q: Why’re you spending my student fees on this event?

A: Welcome! Most people here think campus rape is bad, though not everyone agrees, since one frat was recently banned for allegedly heckling anti-rape events with dildos. If you’d like to join this frat, we have their contact info – but in the meantime, rape awareness is a cheap alternative to lawsuits from rape victims whose colleges violate their rights.

Q: What makes you think campus rape is a problem?

A: Aside from how 15 to 20 per cent of college women are sexually assaulted, and how this is corroborated by the U.S. Department of Justice, the Journal of American College Health, the Medical University of South Carolina and the CDC, we’re generally in favour of preventing things we know are harming our friends and classmates!

Q: What proof do you have those studies are legitimate?

A: Hey, last time we checked, the U.S. Justice Department is good enough at what it does that the FBI works for them. If you’re upset at how they study rape, we can give an address so you can address a letter of concern to them!

Q: And how do you know those rapes aren’t false accusations?

A: We’re confused – if someone rapes someone, how is that false? Regardless, considering the FBI reports over 90 per cent of rape cases are probable or true, we choose to focus our efforts on survivors who need help.

Q: So you don’t care about false rape accusations?

A: On the contrary, the most effective way to prevent such accusations is to prevent situations where rape occurs. That’s why we teach affirmative consent, to ensure men aren’t in danger of walking around and accidentally raping someone who didn’t say yes!

Q: And how would you know she said yes or not?

A: In a civilised society, most people ask for permission before sticking their body parts into another person. Most of us learn consent as children – do you feel consent is a challenge for you?

Q: So a girl can say she was raped if she had sex without saying yes?

A: Good luck with winning a rape case if you have no evidence of rape! That’s why so few men in jail for rape turn out to be falsely accused (unless they’re black), because getting a conviction without evidence sounds about as smart as your question.

Q: So you don’t care how false accusations affect men’s reputations?

A: Au contraire, we care about many things, from how 1 in 6 men are sexually assaulted before college, to how religious groups wish to ban rape victims from accessing birth control. Since rape victims tend to suffer most from rape, we focus on their needs – but since you care deeply about men and rape, perhaps you should table with us at our next event, talking to men about how to avoid accidentally raping?

Q: You didn’t bother answering…

A: I’m sorry, but not interrupting is another skill we assumed you’d learned as a child. Is your lack of basic skills why you’re fearful of being accused of rape someday?

Our chat with this bloke wasn’t nearly this linear – he kept trying to disrupt and derail the conversation, as trolls often try to do. But given how predictable rape apologists are, we were by default well-versed in whatever tired arguments he trotted out, so instead we gave entertaining answers to string him along. No, what shocked us more was that he tried at all – he took his trolling into the offline world, to an event where he should have known none of his arguments would strike anyone as terribly original.

Why, then, did he even bother? We’re not sure why, but we were entertained enough by his foolishness that it led in this post. Happy tabling!

Posted in Rape Culture, Sexual Assault | Tagged , | 8 Comments

Shameless Self-Promotion Sunday

Promote yourself.

Netiquette reminders:

  • Want to recommend someone else’s writing instead? Try the latest signal-boosting thread.
  • we expect Content Notes as a courtesy to our readers for problematic content in linked posts and/or their comment threads (a habit of posting only triggering/disparaging links may annoy the Giraffe (you really don’t want to annoy the Giraffe)), Content Notes are not needed if your post title is already descriptive of problematic content.
  • extended discussion of self-promotion links on this thread is counter-productive for the intended signal-boosting –  the idea is for the promoted sites to get more traffic.  If it’s a side-discussion that would be off-topic/unwelcome/distressing on the other site, take it to #spillover after leaving a note on this thread redirecting others there.
Posted in General | Tagged , | 16 Comments

Dove’s “Campaign for Real Beauty” enters its teen years

Toward the end of January, Dove’s “Campaign for Real Beauty” celebrated its tenth anniversary. Ten years of raising women’s self-esteem and/or just telling us we’re not as ugly as we think we are (mileage varies). The campaign’s first video, 2006’s “Dove Evolution,” demonstrated the unrealistic nature of advertising images by showing the rapid-fire transformation of a non-model-looking woman into a billboard model, through the use of makeup, styling, lighting, and lots and lots of photoshop. The video received thousands upon thousands of near-instantaneous shares, plus a Lion at Cannes in 2007. (Ironically, Dove did, in fact, use Photoshop to smooth and perfect the diverse group of “real woman” models used in their print campaign. Furtherly ironically, the company sells anti-aging cream, firming cream, and brightening cream, I suppose for the benefit of women who don’t look like the women in their ads.)

“Evolution” wasn’t really threatened by any other entries into the self-esteem viral-video market until they eclipsed themselves in 2013. That video, Real Beauty Sketches, had women sitting down for a forensic sketch artist, who made contrasting sketches of them based on their own (critical) and then someone else’s (far less critical) description, showing women that “[they’re] more beautiful than [they] think [they] are.” The video received both praise and criticism, the latter for, in particular, almost exclusively young, thin, conventionally attractive white women and for implying that women are our own worst critics when, in fact, pretty much everyone is our worst critic.

And that’s been the question surrounding the Campaign for Real Beauty basically from the outset: Is being beautiful something we really want to emphasize above all things? In a society where women and girls really are evaluated on our beauty for things completely looks-unrelated, is telling a girl, “Your looks don’t matter as long as you love yourself” really realistic? And how do we address matters of beauty when the concept is both subjective and largely defined by arbitrary, exclusive societal standards?

(Non-Dove-related) case in point: Last summer, feminists overwhelmed @LilyBolourian’s and @cheuya’s #FeministsAreUgly hashtag, originally intended to reclaim and revise conventional, white-centric beauty standards, with a flood of conventionally attractive selfies. And then some other feminists responded with the argument that some feminists are, in fact, what societal standards would deem “ugly,” but that shouldn’t matter because looks are unimportant. And then Bolourian clarified that neither the hashtaggers nor the critics of the hashtaggers were really getting the point, because it’s easy to talk “ugly” or “not ugly” when you’re basically one of the people the beauty standards were built around in the first place.

And in fact, the very genesis of the Campaign was a series of interactive billboards inviting passersby to vote on whether a pictured woman was “Fat or Fab?” or “Wrinkled or Wonderful?” — implying, intentionally or not, that a woman can’t be both.

For my part, I’m not overwhelmed by their most recent video, which invites women all over the world to enter a building by choosing between a “Beautiful” and an “Average” doorway. There’s a lot of footage of women trying to decide which door to use, and women analyzing their choice to use the “Average” door, and ultimately women deciding they are, in fact, worthy of the “Beautiful” doorway. (Interesting side note: Three of the women who go through “Beautiful” are either dragged or, in one case, redirected by the woman pushing her wheelchair.) As someone who falls decisively into the “average” category — if a mathematical construct like that can be applied to physical attractiveness — I’m perfectly aware that my choice of doorways isn’t going to affect my own self-perception or, more important, society’s reaction to me because of my appearance. I mean, whether I’d be considered objectively beautiful is debatable, but I can definitely say I’m closer in appearance to the majority of women than to the women Western society singles out as “beautiful.” That’s not low self-esteem; that’s just logic.

(Dad, please don’t tell me I’m pretty in comments. I love you, but this is not the time.)

The campaign as a whole has received that kind of response, neither a roaring success nor an overwhelming failure, both encouraging women and girls who don’t feel beautiful and disappointing women who continue to be left out of the “beauty” conversation entirely. And this is not me trashing the campaign out of hand — for all of its flaws, if women do find themselves reconsidering their negative self-talk and the messages they internalize that make them feel bad about the way they look, that’s a good thing. Even if it is, at its heart, a bunch of ads. But it is, at its heart, a bunch of ads. And in a society where women can lose their jobs for being too pretty and 81 percent of 10-year-old girls are afraid of being fat, “you’re perfect exactly as you are” is a simplistic glossing-over of a whole boatload of issues.

Regardless, however you feel about the Campaign for Real Beauty, I think we can all agree that none of us who isn’t wearing a gorilla suit looks like a person in a gorilla suit. And that’s a win for everyone.

Three women separately enter a room and shake hands with a woman in a lab coat.

VO. What do we, as women, really think about our appearance? The answers might surprise you. These three women are about to take part in a Dove True Beauty experiment. And they have no idea.

INTERVIEWER. How do you feel about your appearance?

WOMAN 1. Good. Pretty good.

WOMAN 2. There’s definitely room for improvement.

WOMAN 3. Um, I feel okay about it. You know, I have good days, bad days.

INT (cringing). Mmm. Yeah, that bad. Okay. Um… [her phone rings] Oh, I have a phone call, and I have to take this, but I’ll be right back. There’s a mirror, just right there.

W1. Okay.

The interviewer winks at the camera as she walks out of the room. The women look around the room awkwardly as they wait for her to return.

INT. The women think that this is part of the interview. Because we told them that it is.

We see shots of the interview team preparing the room for the interviewees, taking a real mirror out of the wall. Then we’re back to the women in the room. Woman 1 stands and turns to the “mirror,” and a person in a gorilla suit appears in the opening.

W1 (jumping). Oh, my God!

Woman 2 stands and looks in the mirror and shrieks as she sees the gorilla, which is trying to mirror her movements.

W2. What the fuck?!

Woman 3 stands, sees the gorilla, and just stands with her mouth open. The interviewer is in the control room, watching on a monitor.

INT. Wow. You must hate what you see when you look in the mirror.

Woman 1 stands and looks around for the voice, while the gorilla continues to mirror her movements.

W1. What? Is that supposed to be me? Because I would never believe that that was me.

Woman 2 sticks her hand through the mirror opening; the gorilla tries to bat it away.

W2. That’s not a fucking mirror. It’s not a mirror.

INT. You look in the mirror, and what you see is a disgusting zoo animal.

W1. I don’t think that I look like a zoo animal!

INT. But is that the real you?

W1. No!

INT. Look at yourself in the mirror. Do you feel unattractive? I bet you do.

W2. No. I don’t. That’s a man in a gorilla suit.

W3 (shaking). Ani — animal in the room!

W1. I want to leave, please. I don’t want the $25. I’d like to go.

Woman 3 starts patting down the walls, looking for a door.

W3. Is this the door? Is this a panel?

The gorilla is waving at and reaching through the opening to the women.

VO. Again, the women have no idea.

The interview comes back into the room.

INT. What would you say if I told you that that was not your face in the mirror? That was a gorilla-man in the mirror, and not your face.

W2. I’d say yeah.

INT. You thought that was you, and you totally fell for it.

W1. No. No, I — No.

W2. What is wrong with everyone? [waving at the cameras] What is wrong with everyone here?

W1. I never thought that was me in the mirror. Not once.

INT. Well, you can — You can thank Dove. Okay? Just thank — thank Dove. Hashtag #truebeauty.

W1. No. No.

INT. Thank them.

Woman 1 walks out of the room, leaving the interviewer to shout after her.

INT. We showed you using science!

W1 (O.S.). No.

The interviewer looks into the camera, confused.

VO. Dove. You fell for our weird psychology experiment, and it showed you you’re not actually a hideous monster. So where’s our Nobel Peace Prize or whatever?

White screen with the Dove logo, and then fade to black.

Posted in Advertising, Beauty, Body image, Media & Media Literacy | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Privacy Matters: the Personal, the Public and the Police

Digby at Hullabaloo notes that occasionally even David Brooks can be correct.

Privacy is important to the development of full individuals because there has to be an interior zone within each person that other people don’t see. There has to be a zone where half-formed thoughts and delicate emotions can grow and evolve, without being exposed to the harsh glare of public judgment. There has to be a place where you can be free to develop ideas and convictions away from the pressure to conform. There has to be a spot where you are only yourself and can define yourself.

Privacy is important to families and friendships because there has to be a zone where you can be fully known. There has to be a private space where you can share your doubts and secrets and expose your weaknesses with the expectation that you will still be loved and forgiven and supported.

Privacy is important for communities because there has to be a space where people with common affiliations can develop bonds of affection and trust. There has to be a boundary between us and them. Within that boundary, you look out for each other; you rally to support each other; you cut each other some slack; you share fierce common loyalties.

Privacy for normal citizens going around their everyday personal, family and community lives is essential for our very sanity, which is why the question of government agencies monitoring our every keystroke is such an important question of liberty. But as Brooks points out in his NYT op-ed and as Digby elucidates further, privacy for police officers on duty is a very different question.

I wouldn’t ever begrudge police officers a dime for what they do. But that also comes with the responsibility to follow the law and the constitution and there are just too many perverse incentives and too much of a military culture in police work not to use the safeguards that body cams bring to the task.

It’s a delicate balance. But there’s a huge difference between the government using technology to intrude on the most private thoughts and habits of average Americans without cause and using it to ensure that police interactions with citizens are proper. After all, there’s nothing new in having police give a report after an incident. All that’s different about this is that there will now be independent documentation to back up what they say.

Posted in Law, relationships | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

The report is out on Rolling Stone‘s handling of the UVA rape story, and it’s understandably awful

[Content note for rape]

On November 19, 2014, Rolling Stone published a lengthy and damning piece on the handling of sexual assault on college campuses, centering around a University of Virginia student, pseudonymously identified as “Jackie,” and her alleged gang-rape by members of one of the school’s fraternities. It was striking and stomach-turning — the attack, the response from fellow students, the response (or, more accurately, lack thereof) by university administration depicted in that story.

It was also, the world would later learn, almost entirely unsubstantiated. After the piece was examined, dissected, and criticized by numerous news outlets (including a heavily referenced examination by the Washington Post), Rolling Stone backed off of the story, first throwing Jackie under the bus by saying that “[their] trust in her was misplaced” and later revising their statement to conclude that “these mistakes are on Rolling Stone, not on Jackie.”

A new report by the Columbia School of Journalism, commissioned by Rolling Stone back in December, meticulously outlines those mistakes. Rolling Stone published the report, “‘A Rape on Campus': What Went Wrong?“, on their Web site, with an introduction from managing editor Will Dana that included the following:

This report was painful reading, to me personally and to all of us at Rolling Stone. It is also, in its own way, a fascinating document ­– a piece of journalism, as Coll describes it, about a failure of journalism. With its publication, we are officially retracting ‘A Rape on Campus.’ We are also committing ourselves to a series of recommendations about journalistic practices that are spelled out in the report. We would like to apologize to our readers and to all of those who were damaged by our story and the ensuing fallout, including members of the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity and UVA administrators and students. Sexual assault is a serious problem on college campuses, and it is important that rape victims feel comfortable stepping forward. It saddens us to think that their willingness to do so might be diminished by our failings.

It’s pretty painful reading in general, frankly.

Before we move on, a note: The Charlottesville Police Department has said that, following investigation, “there is no substantive base to support the account alleged in the Rolling Stone article.” Their investigation has been suspended, not closed, pending any new evidence. This does not mean that Jackie flat-out lied. She may have misremembered things, she may have been mistaken about things. Or it’s entirely possible that she did lie. [ETA: To quote the Charlottesville chief of police, “That doesn’t mean that something terrible didn’t happen to Jackie… we’re just not able to gather sufficient facts to determine what it is.” Jackie made meritless and specific accusations that cause a lot of people a lot of suffering — that’s unavoidable. But painting her as an out-and-out malicious fabulist makes her a convenient scapegoat for the journalistic failures that never determined what actually did happen before broadcasting it to the world.] Without a definitive statement from her on the subject, it’s hard to call. But unsubstantiated does seem a safe way to go at this point, and regardless of the veracity of Jackie’s claim, that unsubstantiation is at the center of the entire disastrous Rolling Stone article’s disastrousness.

The rest of the things to note: No one has benefited from Rolling Stone‘s massive and far-reaching journalistic cockup. Moreover, no one has not been harmed by it. Not the University of Virginia, which, though far from perfect in its handling of campus sexual assault, had been making efforts to better support victims before the article was published — in fact, one of the other students writer Sabrina Erdely interviewed and decided not to feature in her story had successfully pursued a claim through UVA’s administration. Not Phi Kappa Psi or the students therein. Not the Greek system as a whole that now has an example to pull out when they want to claim that everyone’s out to get them. Not other universities that are more negligent with rape culture on their campus and can now say, “See? We try to help address sexual assault, and this is what happens to us.” Epidemic, schmepidemic.

And not victims of campus sexual assault. Definitely not those. Because now the entire subject of campus rape has a big asterisk on it. Now “but what about the Rolling Stone thing?” is available for casting doubt on rape allegations or on university mismanagement of rape allegations. The discussion of false rape allegations (estimated by several studies at between 2 and 8 percent of allegations, and we’ll look more closely at such statistics in a future post) now has one major, derailing example. “Yes, but look at the Rolling Stone thing.” Yes, the Rolling Stone thing. Now look at the hundreds of rapes that aren’t unsubstantiated. We can’t, and shouldn’t, deny the existence of unsubstantiated rape accusations — but every time one comes to the public eye in such a sensational way, rape victims are the ones who suffer.

In their review of Rolling Stone‘s cascade of bad decisions, the authors of the Columbia report say this:

Yet the editors and Erdely have concluded that their main fault was to be too accommodating of Jackie because she described herself as the survivor of a terrible sexual assault. Social scientists, psychologists and trauma specialists who support rape survivors have impressed upon journalists the need to respect the autonomy of victims, to avoid re-traumatizing them and to understand that rape survivors are as reliable in their testimony as other crime victims. These insights clearly influenced Erdely, [principal editor Sean] Woods and Dana. “Ultimately, we were too deferential to our rape victim; we honored too many of her requests in our reporting,” Woods said. “We should have been much tougher, and in not doing that, we maybe did her a disservice.”

Erdely added: “If this story was going to be about Jackie, I can’t think of many things that we would have been able to do differently. … Maybe the discussion should not have been so much about how to accommodate her but should have been about whether she would be in this story at all.” Erdely’s reporting led her to other, adjudicated cases of rape at the university that could have illustrated her narrative, although none was as shocking and dramatic as Jackie’s.

Their main fault was to be too accommodating of Jackie. Now we’re back to “misplaced” trust. The complete journalistic meltdown on the part of Erdely and the editorial staff above her was all out of an effort to protect Jackie’s feelings.

Yet Erdely wouldn’t have needed to re-traumatize Jackie in the process of talking to her colleagues at the aquatic center where she and her alleged rapist were lifeguards, or to the three friends Jackie said she talked to immediately after the rape (and whom Erdely depicted in a rather unflattering light in her article). (“In retrospect, I wish somebody had pushed me harder” to talk to them, she told Columbia in a convenient abrogation of responsibility.) She wouldn’t have needed Jackie’s cooperation to give sufficient details to Phi Kappa Psi for them to be able to do their own investigation into their part in the alleged assault. Jackie refused to identify her alleged rapist, but she didn’t make her participation in the article contingent on Erdely not contacting him — but Erdely was having trouble tracking him down, and she was two weeks away from her deadline, and so she decided to go forward with a story built around an unnamed man who, for all she knew, could have lived exclusively in Jackie’s mind.

Erdely’s reporting led her to other, adjudicated cases of rape at the university that could have illustrated her narrative, although none was as shocking and dramatic as Jackie’s. Now we’re talking.

At this point, it doesn’t matter whether Jackie was lying or was telling the truth or hallucinated the whole thing. Without having all of the story, Erdely had no story, but a no-story story was better than none at all when she was up against a deadline on such a career-makingly sensationalistic article. So she ran with it. And the rest is history.

Without knowing exactly what Jackie’s mindset was throughout the research and writing of A Rape on Campus, it’s hard to say whether or not Erdely took advantage of her to get the story. But it’s pretty clear that Erdely took advantage of every actual victim of campus sexual assault to get it. And not just Erdely — anyone in a decision-making position at Rolling Stone could have pushed to kill the story, or insisted that Erdely back away from Jackie’s story and concentrate on the numerous accounts of campus rape that were less “shocking and dramatic,” less “strong, powerful, provocative,” but more substantiated. They didn’t, and now every rape allegation that’s dismissed because “well, remember the Rolling Stone thing” is on them.

This doesn’t mean that every man (or woman) accused of rape is, by default, guilty. But it’s possible to take an alleged victim’s accusations seriously and not dismiss them out of hand as “buyer’s remorse” or a vengeful ex or a beg for attention. It’s not only possible but necessary to investigate fully — as the Charlottesville police did in determining that Jackie’s accusation was unsubstantiated, and as Erdely absolutely did not do in her reporting. Rape victims deserve to be taken seriously, not to be taken advantage of to vilify men, vilify rape victims or to publish a potentially career-making story before the next issue closes.

I think the most telling quote in Columbia’s report comes from Coco McPherson, the chief of Rolling Stone‘s fact-checking department, which was the source of several questions that were discarded higher up in the editorial process: “I one hundred percent do not think that the policies that we have in place failed. I think decisions were made around those because of the subject matter.”

I give Rolling Stone points for commissioning a third-party examination of their journalistic disaster, and for publishing the report despite the shameful portrait of their incompetence it delivers. Now I want to see what comes next. And I don’t mean the changes in their editorial process, because as McPherson noted above, the breakdown was not that it wasn’t edited correctly but that the editors didn’t care whether or not it was correct. I want to see what Rolling Stone will do to help negate the perception of a rash of false accusations that will arise/has arisen from this one unsubstantiated case. The rate of false accusations prior to November 19, 2014, was estimated at 2 to 8 percent, and today it’s 2 to 8 percent — that fact didn’t change with the knowledge that Jackie wasn’t on the level in her account of rape. The conversation has changed, though, and not for the better or the clearer.

Posted in Crime, Media & Media Literacy, Rape Culture, Sexual Assault | Tagged | 84 Comments

Shameless Self-Promotion Sunday

Promote yourself.

Netiquette reminders:

  • Want to recommend someone else’s writing instead? Try the latest signal-boosting thread.
  • we expect Content Notes as a courtesy to our readers for problematic content in linked posts and/or their comment threads (a habit of posting only triggering/disparaging links may annoy the Giraffe (you really don’t want to annoy the Giraffe)), Content Notes are not needed if your post title is already descriptive of problematic content.
  • extended discussion of self-promotion links on this thread is counter-productive for the intended signal-boosting –  the idea is for the promoted sites to get more traffic.  If it’s a side-discussion that would be off-topic/unwelcome/distressing on the other site, take it to #spillover after leaving a note on this thread redirecting others there.
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