The In’s and Out’s of Catcalling

Catcalling– creepy or a compliment? You know I have yet to experience catcalling that felt the least bit complimentary. In fact I generally find myself wondering what possessed the guy to think the comments would net good results, or I get annoyed enough to tell the guy off for being disgusting. On occasion (like when they say this nasty shit while I’m walking with my kids) I contemplate violence as a response. I’m having a hard time buying the idea that these guys don’t know catcalling is a bad thing. They know it, they just don’t want to stop acting this way because they enjoy making women uncomfortable. I’m also a little perplexed by the women that feel the catcalls let them know they’re attractive. Is that low self-esteem, lack of functional men in their lives, or something I’m missing completely? Talk to me about catcalls and how they make you feel. How do you respond? If you’re a guy, do you catcall? Why?

Karnythia is a writer, a historian, and occasionally a loud mouth. In between raising hell and raising kids she usually manages to find time to contemplate the meaning of life as a black woman in America. Her posts on any topic can be found at her Livejournal.

What is this “protection” of which you speak?

“Sexual assaults are frequent, and frequently ignored, in the armed services.” I have this insane urge to email Rep. Jane Harman (D-CA)and say “Duh!” This is old old news, but every few years someone rediscovers the reality that rapists join the military and we get a bunch of op-eds and exhortations for the military to do more to protect women. The military isn’t all that interested in taking care of male soldiers (see Agent Orange, Gulf War Syndrome and those LSD experiments on unwitting soldiers) since we’re really just here to protect everyone else. I’m a disabled vet that has spent years going back and forth with VA over my leg injuries despite it being documented by a stack of tests from military doctors that gave me a medical discharge because “the damage is too extensive and it will just get worse as you get older” and that was at 19. I’m 31 now. I’ll let you guess how my leg feels now.

Want to hear something shocking? Putting on that uniform does not automatically make the person in it a decent human being. Much like active pedophiles seek out positions that give them access to children? Rapists, abusers, and your run of the mill misogynistic assholes seeks out the military because it’s a place where being hypermasculine is rewarded. And as long as you’re not too careless you can get away with hurting women every day without fear of repercussions. The Army cracks down harder on drug smuggling than it does on rape and spousal abuse. I was a soldier. I married a soldier. As some of you know he hit me the first time for the crime of being pregnant and not wanting to deliver my child alone in Germany while he was slated to be deployed. I told him that I wanted to come back to the States in my last trimester and all Hell broke loose. A neighbor called the MP’s when she heard him kicking down a door to get at me. His command gave him less than a slap on the wrist (I don’t think he even got extra duty) and I was admonished to be more understanding of his stress levels and encouraged not to do anything hasty like leave him. We were sent to counseling (Did you know on every base there’s a group for batterers and their spouses?) and he made all the standard moves (complete with flowery promises never to do it again) and that was the end of that as far as command was concerned.

A friend of mine was attacked by a guy she liked hanging out with while I was stationed at a base in Texas. Despite the fact that she was covered in mud and bruises, our command initially acted like she’d somehow provoked the attack (while wearing that oh so sexy set of BDU’s) and when it became clear that she wasn’t going to let this slide (So as to not ruin his career. After all since they’d been friends before the incident didn’t she care about his future?) they made a desultory show of an investigation and he wound up on extra duty and losing a few weeks pay. Mind you, she didn’t shower, he’d torn her uniform and she’d put up one hell of a fight judging from the bruises I saw and the blood all over her fingernails. But, somehow there wasn’t enough evidence to merit pursuing a criminal case. Meanwhile the guy that drove down to Mexico and got caught crossing the border with a kilo of coke? They threw the book at him. AFAIK he’s still in Leavenworth and won’t be going anywhere in the next 5-10 years.

The only time I saw any real justice meted out for a guy assaulting a fellow soldier it was done by another guy that was friends with the woman that had been attacked. Of course he just beat the shit out of the would be rapist and dared him to report it to Top. It wasn’t (obviously) the best response, but we all knew that it was the only way anything substantive would happen to him. Note, I am not saying that every male in the service is a rapist or that every woman is going to be victimized. Your MOS will make a huge difference (my 1st MOS was the equivalent of being a stevedore so I was with a lot of males and very few females) as will your appearance and your willingness to drink. Those of you that know me in meat space are well aware that you’ve never seen me drunk in public. That was a habit I picked up as a petite woman in a male dominated social environment. Mind you, I can drink more than the average woman my size (courtesy of a flirtation with a drinking problem in high school and hanging out with women that drink whiskey), but unless I’m in a situation that’s completely safe (like my house) I’m not getting sloshed.

Women that look feminine (think nice clothes, makeup, doing your hair, smelling good and all the other frilly things that you can start to miss after three weeks of running around in the mud and muck) and fall into specific gender roles (what better way to feel feminine than to flirt a lot and play wife to the guy of the moment?) in their off time get a lot of attention in the military. Some of it is good. A lot of it is not. Women who serve become aware very quickly of all the ways that shit can go wrong. If you happen to be exceptionally lucky at your first duty station someone may well run down the facts of life for you. What are they? You need to avoid getting drunk, avoid drinking anything you did not pour for yourself, and avoid being alone in a room with a bunch of guys no matter how well you think you know them because that is always a bad idea. You may get warned about which members of command to avoid at all costs and what guys have already engaged in some ugly behavior. Is it fair that the onus is on the women to protect themselves? No. But this idea that the military will actually protect them is so ludicrous all I can do is laugh like a hyena at the thought. Unless we’re planning to overhaul our entire society, women that sign up need to be aware that the predator concentration is much higher in the closed environment of the U.S. military. It sucks and I’d love to buy into the delusion that military = hero, but I knew too many assholes in uniform to lie to myself that way.

Karnythia is a writer, a historian, and occasionally a loud mouth. In between raising hell and raising kids she usually manages to find time to contemplate the meaning of life as a black woman in America. Her posts on any topic can be found at her Livejournal.

The Strong Woman* & Emasculated Man

Posted by: Naamen Gobert Tilahun

The nicknames are endless, bitch, ballbuster, battleaxe, ballcutter, … all of these are used in reference to a strong woman. When confronted with a woman who exudes strength the automatic reaction of some men is to fall into the whole “woe is me, she emasculated me” line of thought. The introduction of a strong woman into most men’s lives leads to the use of this defense when confronted with ugly truths. It should be no surprise that the idea has gotten so popular that the strong woman/emasculated male trope is now trotted out constantly as an excuse for bad behavior on the part of men. Males and male-apologists alike blame everything from rape, to cheating, to sexual harassment, to cat-calling, to eaves-teasing, to depression, to murder on a woman being “emasculating” thus forcing the man to react in this way.

Yeah…I call bullshit.

A little background history on me, my parents divorced when I was very young and my father got custody of me. Despite this I was in constant contact with my mother, phone calls every week, packages every month, visits every summer, all told I spent a lot of time in my mother’s mental space if not in her physical presence. You would be hard pressed to find a woman as strong as my mother, she taught me a lot of the morals and beliefs that I now apply to my everyday life.

I never once felt emasculated or was made to feel small by my mother’s competence and strength. I never feel that way today when I meet a woman in my personal or professional life who has what is called “ballbuster qualities” because I recognize that these are the same characteristics that are admired and lauded in men all over this country.

Now the main point of me stating all this is that the way we react to anyone’s strength is a personal and controllable reaction. If men are feeling this way around a strong woman it is not a “natural” or “normal” reaction in any way, it is the reaction that our white heteronormative patriarchal society wants us to have. It is the reaction of the media, and family, and so much that we read and study giving us the impression that women are less important, less smart, less driven, less everything and suddenly getting confronted by proof that this isn’t true at all.

Instead of doing the mature thing and realizing that they’ve been fed false information they fall back on how they’ve been trained to react to such an “unnatural” woman, with contempt, with insults and undermining her authority. This is because, at least subconsciously the male has realized his place of power within the dynamic and the world which those like him have created. As a newly cut cog in the patriarchal war machine he does the small motions that keep the machine flowing, contributing to larger actions that oppress women worldwide.

Now as this is I want to bring up the intersection this has with race. There is a certain extra layer that permeates the idea of the strong woman when it’s applied to black** women. The strong black woman is such a pervasive stereotype that it’s been the basis of movies (Deliver Us From Eva, Two Can Play That Game) and is the impetus behind the role of “sassy black friend” (Scary Movie franchise). The strong black woman is blamed for much in the African-American community both by those on the inside and the outside of the community itself. Theorists have linked the “strong black woman” with the prevalence of gangs in urban life, again falling back on the emasculation excuse offered above in two ways. Number one, the woman obviously drove off her husband by being too strong which has effected the child adversely and number two she’s doing the same with her son.

This particular use of the trope to denigrate and blame women has a large racial component because by blaming the black woman for being too strong they can ignore the intersecting race, gender, heterosexist and socio-economic reasons that oppressed groups (all oppressed groups including women, LGBTQ, those of lower socio-economic standing, etc.) have formed street gangs in the past and continue to do so. For many it is seen as their only way out of the ghetto, as their only chance for a community of people who will love them no matter what, as something they have little to no choice in.

All men are inundated with these ideas about women by the societal mores of our patriarchal society but it is their choice to buy in to the nonsense. It is their choice to become emasculated by a strong woman rather than viewing her as a valid competitor and business person. It is their choice to leave their privilege and therefore their privileged reactions unexamined. It is hard to examine your privilege and is a never ending process but it is by no means impossible. I’ve done this, other men have done this, all men can do this but chose not too because at least subconsciously and often consciously they know that the machine they are a part of benefits them and those like them. So male and male-apologists will continue to call strong women, and indeed any woman who questions them, a bitch. And I’ll continue to call them and their theory of strong women emasculating men, bullshit.

*Strong Woman – There are many different types of strength for men and women but when we discuss the strong woman of ball-busting and battleaxe fame we are discussing most often a woman who knows what she wants, goes out to get it, doesn’t allow anyone or anyone’s incompetence to stand in her way and doesn’t suffer fools. There are many different types of strength and strong women, none of them is more valid than the others. This post is not a valuing or rating of women this is simply talking about a particular trope.

**I’m focusing on black women because those tropes are the ones I know the best and it would be irresponsible of me to spout off about the racial implications when applied to Native, Asian, Latina, Middle-Eastern, etc. That is not to say I know everything when it comes to this trope being applied to black women but that is where the core of my knowledge lies. I encourage anyone who knows about the way this can interact with other racial groups and the stereotypes that dog them to expand in the comments or make a post of their own and link it in the comments.

Naamen Gobert Tilahun is a creative writer, freelancer and blogger based in San Francisco. You can visit him at Words From The Center, Words From The Edge, where he discusses writing, science-fiction, movies, and more.

On the passing of Ike Turner

Ike Turner is gone. Predictably, people can’t stop talking about That Movie and about Tina. One thing I keep hearing is that, though Ike was a great musician and pioneer, all people can talk about is his abusive nature and drug habit. What a shame that is, these voices say.

I am about to say something possibly controversial: is that a shame? Really?

People who knew Ike defend him by saying: “Haven’t you ever made a mistake?” Yeah, I have, lots of them. But if my mistakes caused pain, both physical and emotional, to someone else, I don’t expect people to forgive and forget or overlook them altogether if I don’t ever apologize.

Did Ike ever apologize? Did Ike ever admit that he was in the wrong and that, perhaps, beating his wife was really not a proper thing to do? I honestly don’t know the answer to that question. I do know that he wrote a book wherein he said “I never did that thing that was in the movie” but I don’t know if he ever admitted the spousal abuse and what, if any, amends he attempted to make to the victim of his attacks. (Why yes, I am taking Tina’s words as the truth.)

If he did admit what he did, make an apology, and other such things in that direction, then yeah, I think we can then focus on the positive aspects of his life. But if he has spent all these years denying what he did and possibly going on to do it to other people, then no. I don’t give a flying fuck how much good music he made in that case. I really don’t.

I am tired of people using the “But he was a great artist” line whenever someone who is, otherwise, a despicable human being, writes a song or a book or a poem that they like. I hate to break Godwin’s Law here, but even Hitler wrote some nice poetry and drew some pretty pictures (and he was nice to animals).

Irrational Men

Recently a friend of mine, writer Jay Lake, pointed to this article:

Saudi Rape Victim Gets 200 Lashes

A Saudi court sentenced a woman who had been gang raped to six months in jail and 200 lashes – more than doubling her initial penalty for being in the car of a man who was not a relative…

In its decision Wednesday, the court also roughly doubled prison sentences for the seven men convicted of raping the 19-year-old woman, the Arab News reported on its English-language Web site.

According to Arab News, the court said the woman’s punishment was increased because of “her attempt to aggravate and influence the judiciary through the media.”
The victim had initially been sentenced to 90 lashes after being convicting her of violating Saudi’s rigid laws on segregation of the sexes.

Under Saudi Arabia’s interpretation of Islamic Sharia law, women are not allowed in public in the company of men other than their male relatives.
The initial sentences for the men convicted of the gang rape ranged from 10 months to five years in prison. Their new sentences range from two to nine years, the paper said.

The attack took place in 2006. The woman has said that it occurred as she tried to retrieve her picture from a male high school student she used to know. While in the car with the student, two men got into the vehicle and drove them to a secluded area. She said she was raped there by seven men, three of whom also attacked her friend.

Reading stuff like this is Why I’m Angry, as I’ve pointed out before. But something in the commentary Jay gave along with this link also made me angry:

How about this: Under Shariate law, a woman who simply reports a rape is considered to have admitted her guilt as an adultress, and is subject to penalties up to execution. If this horrifies you, consider the secular viewpoint on this. There is no difference between that sort of religious insanity and moves to teach Intelligent Design in school, except in the matter of degree. In both cases, people of faith are deliberately discarding rationalism in the name of their religious principles.

Here’s the problem I have — if what he says about Sharia law is true (I say if only because I haven’t verified this independently), the problem here is less religion-based irrationality but patriarchy/misogyny-based irrationality. So he’s comparing apples to oranges in an attempt to prove that irrationality = religion/faith = bad as compared to supposedly completely rational secular/atheist folks.

Obviously the patriarchal attitude permeates the religion as well, but it isn’t the sole cause of what can go wrong in religion just as religion isn’t the sole cause of patriarchy and misogyny. Plenty of secular folks have wrongheaded attitudes about women. Plenty of secular folks harass, marginalize, or otherwise act/think in ways that harm women. Religion does not have a corner on this market.

Just as anyone can use the Bible or the Qur’an or the Torah to justify any bad thing they want to do, so can they use those books to justify any good thing they want to do — like feeding the poor, taking care of widows and orphans, and being a good host, to name a few.

But the bad justifications are just that: justifications. I don’t think misogyny and patriarchy is inherent in religion. Nor do I think we can solely attribute religious irrationality to the horrendous rule that women who admit to being raped are admitting they did something wrong themselves. That’s all about Men and their Dominance Issues, and one can find analogs of varying degrees across all patriarchal cultures, including ours, and including the secularists among us.

It’s not the same thing as believing in Intelligent Design because that is purely (or majorly) about religion. Apples and Oranges. (Not that I agree with /approve of either ID or Sharia law as regards rape.) I think it would help us all if secular folks would stop using examples of misogyny to denigrate all aspects of religion. It’s reminiscent of the way some people say “Race isn’t the problem, Class is,” when really it’s Race and Class and a whole bunch of other things individually and in tandem. But the relationship is extremely complex. Don’t toss it all together as if it’s a simple 1 to 1 equation.

No, we’re not gonna take it

In the October 15th issue of Newsweek I read a little sidebar piece on Race & Gender titled “We’re Not Gonna Take It”.

At no small personal cost, Anucha Browne-Sanders stood up and demanded an end to the kind of abuse African-American women regularly tolerate from some black men. We are not “bitches” or “ho’s” to be harassed sexually or otherwise, she declared.

It was a brave thing for an African-American woman to do. Our community is reluctant to talk openly about the problem of black men mistreating black women.
“Black men have to start taking responsibility for being part of the reason black women are so disrespected in the first place,” [says Terry McMillan]. …but plenty of blacks–men and women alike–are loath to point fingers publicly.
The reasons for this silence are complicated, but mostly it’s about not wanting to make things tougher for black men than they already are. …any additional attacks from black women are seen as a betrayal.
Yet without open dialogue, nothing is solved.

I definitely agree with that. One thing the author didn’t mention is the tension between in-group condemnation and condemnation from without. My hackles rise when I hear white folks pronouncing from on high that black men disrespect black women. But I won’t hesitate to call out this behavior myself. I feel that I have more of a right, not only as a black person but as a black woman, than any white person of any gender.

While I understand the whole Besieged From All Sides feeling, I don’t think that men should be allowed to use this as a dodge when the problem is brought up. Of course there are black men who don’t disrespect black women as a matter of course. But there’s a lot of music, television, and film that does. There are a lot of individuals who do. Any time anyone anywhere has a conversation wherein a black man states that he prefers to date white women because black women are too “angry” and “demanding”, they are being complete asses and should probably be smacked for their own good. Most of those black men are only alive today because some black woman (who was probably angry a lot, even if it didn’t show) put up with them for 18 or more years, nurtured and loved them, and probably still does.

We–and by we I do mean black people–need to get out of this habit of cutting slack and ignoring the problems in our own community because we are under attack from outside forces. We cannot become stronger and better and more powerful if we ignore our own faults. And we certainly can’t do anything if half of us are constantly under siege from the other half.

This does not, however, give white folks a free pass to talk shit about black men. Nor does it mean that I am on their “side” against black men or even agree with their assessment of what, exactly, is broken in this equation.

How Prejudice and Bias works

One of the things that always crops up in vast discussions of racism, sexism, or prejudice of most kinds is the argument that businesses would never engage in biased, bigoted actions because it would be bad for the profit margin. The recent flare up in the Geico Caveman post sparked my thinking on this, but it’s found in many areas, including in the debate surrounding Gender Bias in SF fiction markets. Magazine editors would never be biased against women because they want to sell to women says Doug Cohen. The problem with this stance, in all its forms, is that it’s short-sighted and based on an ignorance of how prejudice, bias, and bigotry work in America.Privileged people often don’t understand how prejudice works because (surprise!) they don’t experience it. Yet privileged people are usually the first to step forward and proclaim that something isn’t racist, sexist, etc. As we’ve already covered here, only those to whom the prejudice is happening can rightfully declare the prejudice to be over. They’re usually the only ones who fully understand how it works as well. Add to that, most folks who claim that “No Business Would Ever” aren’t actually in a position to know.

So let me try and school some folks on how racism/sexism/prejudice works. First of all, there’s less overt bigotry in American business than there used to be. Not very many signs that say “No Niggers or Mexicans” or Colored fountains. (Not to say that these things don’t exist at all. They do, just not as much.) However, that does not mean that racism is over. There are still plenty of companies that have discriminatory hiring and promoting practices. The glass ceiling hasn’t disappeared. To say that this doesn’t filter down to their marketing practices is to live in ignorance. Just looking at the commercials on network TV, how many feature white people only? How many feature just token people of color? When is the last time that you saw a commercial that featured all people of color that wasn’t on a specialized network (CW, BET, etc.) or during a “black show”? Some may argue that companies would be shooting themselves in the foot by being racist, and yet they advertise non-race specific products without nary a whiff of non-white people on the screen. What those companies understand that many consumers don’t is that this works. They can employ this subtle racism, wherein they cater to the privileged and ignore the not-privileged, and not suffer financially for it. People of color will still buy the products.

Why? There are lots of reasons. The main one being that many people of color just don’t notice. After all, our culture is a white one. It is centered around the most privileged in our society, the white male. It’s ingrained into us from childhood that whiteness is normal and maleness is better. So why should we question that there are no brown people on the TV? After all, we are inconsequential.

Those of us who do notice these things have little recourse. Because every time we dare to speak about it in public, there are plenty of people around to tell us that we’re being stupid, or oversensitive, or playing the race card, or seeing racism where it doesn’t exist. All of this from people who’ve most likely never had to consider if something is racist or not. They don’t see it, therefore, it doesn’t exist.

Which is the next component: the training of white people who, while not malicious or overtly prejudiced themselves, aren’t taught to notice their own privilege or to notice prejudice when it doesn’t present itself at Hitlerian levels. This training is mostly taken up by the media, who hold up the pillars of privilege while giving all consumers the tools to ignore the effects of such. Like the Geico commercials that poke fun at people who are “too sensitive” to legitimate grievances. Or 24 hour news channels whose anchors can’t say the names Sharpton or Jackson without making a face or spitting to the side. Or even popular entertainment, which is the biggest culprit. Sitcoms set in NYC with nary a brown face, even in the background. Or shows where any brown people are there to uplift the white protagonist or are just a step above minstrel shows. Grown women portrayed as large children, over-emotional harridans, meddling mothers, or sexless career drones. Not every show on TV is like this. Not every network engages in this base stupidity. But if I were to take a count right now, this crap would be in a comfortable majority.

It seems like there aren’t too many network execs that worry about “shooting themselves in the foot” when it comes to green lighting a show with no people of color whatsoever. Sure, they want lots of viewers so they can sell advertising slots. But which demographic do advertisers care about? Males. White. 18 – 40 years old. If a show skews too female (and it’s not on Lifetime) or, god forbid, too black (if it’s not on the CW or BET), how long will it last?

This applies to other corners of the media as well. Radio, music, book publishing, and magazines. In the gender bias discussion, I acknowledged that the bias most people were aware of was probably unconscious. After all, most people are not aware of their own biases. Particularly white men. They don’t need to be aware of biases because they aren’t affected by them. But even if Shawna McCarthy or Gordon van Gelder were consciously biased and have made editorial decisions based on a desire to draw more male readers without regard to female readers, (or readers of color of either gender) what would the results be? For decades the magazines and, to some extent, the big publishing houses, have catered to the white, male fan and it’s earned them a lot of money. Why should they change?

The only reason to change is because something changes in the consumer base. For magazines, the readership is changing. There are more women interested in reading SF than there were 20 years ago. There are more women writing. There are more men with wider interests than the narrow offerings of Golden Age SF. There are more people of color consuming spec fic. That’s when you start to see some outrage, some discussion, some outing of biases, unconscious or not, and calls for change. That doesn’t mean the magazines change right away. After all, they have done well so far. What the readers are starting to point out is that change has to happen, or they will go somewhere else.

Even with all this you still get people who claim there could not possibly be this problem. Why? Not only because they can’t see beyond their own prejudice but because they think things are fine the way they are. They don’t want to change. They are happy and comfortable. It doesn’t matter if other people are or not.

Lucky for the genre, those people are about to be squished like little bugs under the collective heel of enlightened people.

This is what needs to happen on a massive scale for things to change on a wider front. It won’t be until a vocal majority of people decry racism in all its forms that something will be done about it. We’ve been lulled into a false belief that, because of the Civil Rights Movement, there’s nothing more to do. We’ve been told that it’s all okay because we have BET and businesses would be stupid to continue with racist practices. Meanwhile, executives laugh all the way to the bank, profiting off ignorance and apathy.

Racism, sexism, bias, prejudice, and bigotry work when people in power are smart about the implementation. As long as it’s subtle, quiet, and only truly discussed amongst people who are secure in their power, everyone else is left to either suffer from it or argue about when and where it actually exists. For me, the discussion about whether prejudice exists is over. I know it, I see it, I experience it. The discussion isn’t even about in what way it exists. For me it’s about how we can eliminate it.

Which level of the discussion are you having?