Ahh…Valentine’s Day. The way I see it, most people either love to hate it or pretend not to love it. Then, of course, there are those who don’t really give a shit either way. I generally fall into that category. I’m not much for holidays of any sort. The only ones I pay mind to are of the Halloween/St. Patrick’s Day variety. You know…the ones that involve heavy drinking. Since Valentine’s Day is more closely linked to over-priced hothouse flowers and those weird chalky conversation hearts than it is to tequila and moonshine, I can’t muster much enthusiasm for it. Well…I couldn’t until Eve Ensler gave me a reason to love Valentine’s Day. In what many think was an evil feminist ploy to enslave cupid and put the damper on romance, Eve Ensler turned Valentine’s Day into V-Day, an international movement to end violence against women and girls. All over the world, campuses, non-profits, and community organizations hold benefit performances of Ensler’s play, The Vagina Monologues, where all the proceeds are given to charities that fight to end sexual assault, intimate partner violence and a variety of other crimes against women and girls. It’s pretty damn fabulous. Many V-Day events are performed on the day itself, while others are scheduled through March. If you’ve never been to a V-Day event, I seriously recommend you check it out. You’ll laugh. You’ll cry. You’ll shout “cunt” over and over and over again.
In honor of this momentous occasion, I present you with the V-Day edition of the Fucked-Update. Why? Because if violence against women isn’t fucked up, I don’t know what is.
Politicians Should Learn When to Shut the Fuck Up
Last week, Tennessee Senator Doug Henry opened his big mouth during hearings on an abortion resolution and let out this charming little statement:
Rape, ladies and gentlemen, is not today what rape was. Rape, when I was learning these things, was the violation of a chaste woman, against her will, by some party not her spouse. Today it’s simply, “Let’s don’t go forward with this act.”
A commenter at feministing.com compared this to a statement made by Bill Napoli, a state senator from South Dakota, who gave this lovely description of the kind of sexual assault he thinks is bad enough to warrant a woman’s abortion:
A real-life description to me would be a rape victim, brutally raped, savaged. The girl was a virgin. She was religious. She planned on saving her virginity until she was married. She was brutalized and raped, sodomized as bad as you can possibly make it, and is impregnated. I mean, that girl could be so messed up, physically and psychologically, that carrying that child could very well threaten her life.
Dirty, dirty old men….
Gang Rapes in Iraq…Yeah, I’m Not Surprised Either….
I’m late on writing about this because…well…because the primaries had me all distracted for a while and then I just didn’t get around to it. This story broke last December, but there haven’t been many developments since then because of all the legal complications surrounding the case. Basically, Jamie Leigh Jones took a job working for Halliburton/KBR in the Green Zone in Iraq. When she arrived in Iraq she was placed in barracks full of male co-workers despite the fact that she was told she would have a private trailer. She told her employers she was uncomfortable with the living situation, but they basically ignored her. Then one evening a group of her male co-workers drugged her, brutally assaulted her and gang-raped her. She reported the assault and was taken to a clinic to have a rape kit done. The doctors confirmed the rape and did all the standard horribly embarrassing rape kit stuff.
This is when the story gets really ridiculous.
After leaving the clinic, she was taken back to the camp and placed in a shipping container with two armed guards stationed outside. Yup. That’s right, folks. They locked a sexual assault victim in a shipping container and wouldn’t let her out. Eventually, one of the men guarding the shipping container felt sorry for her and let her use his cell phone to call home. She called her father. He called his congressman. Then, steps were taken to get Jamie Leigh back home. Of course, Halliburton/KBR threatened to fire her before she left. She went home anyway so that she could receive medical treatment. Due to the brutality of the attack, she needed reconstructive surgery on her breasts and pectoral muscles. I mean seriously…she went through some nasty shit.
After returning to the country, she was contacted by a member of the State Department who was investigating the case. Jamie Leigh told the agent there was a rape kit done and that the doctor had given it to the KBR employee. The rape kit, of course, magically disappeared. Eventually, it turned up, although the photographs and the doctor’s notes were missing. They contacted the doctor who informed them that so many female contractors had come in after sexual assaults that she would never be able to remember Jamie Leigh’s specific case.
Jamie Leigh Jones is still in a legal battle with KBR. The real problem here is that there is absolutely no legal recourse for a woman in her situation. Contractors in Iraq are not subject to Iraqi law or US law, so they can basically get away with whatever they want. According to various complaints made by employees of Halliburton/KBR, what they want is to sexually violate, degrade, and abuse their female co-workers.
It is important to make a distinction between the contractors in Iraq and the American soldiers stationed there. While the American military certainly has a sexual assault problem of its own (i.e. the Marine who was arrested this week for raping a 14-year old in Okinawa), the contractors are a much bigger problem, because they have no one to hold them accountable. So although Jamie Leigh Jones is still fighting, it is unlikely that she will ever see any justice.
Seriously Shitty Journalism
Last weekend a woman named Sanesha Stewart was stabbed multiple times in her Bronx apartment. Since then, the New York Daily News has taken it up on themselves to degrade her despite the fact that she’s already dead. Why? Because Sanesha Stewart was a trans woman. The original headline was “Fooled John Stabbed Bronx Tranny”. When people complained, the Daily News changed it to “Cops: Ex-con slays Bronx Transexual ‘Hooker’”. Not that much better. Both the initial article and the follow-up are strange to read because despite the fact that the writers seem so intent to strip her of her dignity, the people in her life have nothing but kind, loving words to say about her. This is often the case with stories about murdered trans women–especially when the women in question are women of color. The facts of the case are unclear. Her neighbors all insist that she wasn’t a prostitute, but the paper reports that she is simply because the man who murdered her claimed the ol’ tranny deception defense. The people the writers interview talk about how much they loved Stewart, but the writers only want to emphasize her clothes and her stature. Her neighbors refer to her by female pronouns, yet the writers insist on using male pronouns. Despite the fact that her name had legally been changed more than a year ago, the Daily News “journalists” took it upon themselves to dig up her birth name and publish it in the paper. It’s this kind of bullshit that makes it harder for people to see that the identities of trans women are genuine. And when people don’t consider those to be genuine female identities, the trans panic defense seems reasonable to people. And sadly, in several hate crimes cases, most notably that of Gwen Araujo, the “I thought it was a chick and then it turned out to be a dude and so I beat the shit out of that freak” defense actually works. Murderers are getting shorter sentences for hate crimes because we, as a culture, refuse to accept people’s gender identities. It’s shitty. And it really, really needs to stop.
For more on this, check out this post by Holly at Feministe, who is far more eloquent on the topic than I could ever be. And to read up on trans issues (because I really think everyone should be better informed) check out Julia Serano’s book Whipping Girl: A Transsexual Woman on Sexism and the Scapegoating of Femininity.