Wednesday, June 8, 2016

You're Feministing Wrong...

There are two big things on my mind today, and I think they go hand in hand, but my brain is having trouble explaining how, so let's see if putting them down on 'paper' helps.

First of all, I can't get away from the horror of the Stanford rape case that's gone viral. To be honest I don't really want to get away from that horror, I want to expose that horror, share it with the world and let everyone experience the full meaning of what's happening here.

If you haven't read the letter from the victim to her rapist yet, READ IT NOW. I'm serious, unless you are a survivor of sexual assault and that letter will trigger you, you have no reason not to read it and everyone needs to read that letter. It's long, it's graphic, and it's brutally honest. You NEED to read it.

But why, Virginia? Why would you suggest I put myself through that? 

Because this is not an isolated incident. This is not something that just happens to someone else. And the only way to keep this from happening is to talk about it. To talk about it, and talk about why it's happening, and talk about what we can do to stop it. I'm sorry if that letter makes you uncomfortable, or if having a conversation about rape makes you uncomfortable. It should make you uncomfortable, it's not a comfortable topic, but it's an incredibly important one.

So now that you've read the letter, let's talk about what happened in that sentencing hearing. The judge gave the convicted rapist (convicted by a jury of his peers on three felony counts of sexual assault) six months of jail time with promise of parole for good behavior.


Let's take a close look at that, shall we: THREE FELONY counts of SEXUAL ASSAULT. There are currently people in prison (yes, prison, not jail) for much longer terms, for growing or possessing marijuana, for petty theft, for many things that are not rape, and for many things that are rape. That's the even crazier part. Many people who are convicted of RAPE and/or SEXUAL ASSAULT go to prison, and go there for a good long time.

Why is that not the case for the Stanford victim's rapist?

Because he is rich and white and male? Quite possibly. And that's severely fucked up. Because he has proven conclusively that he is a danger to women, but the judge in charge of his sentencing is ignoring that fact. In fact, he stated that he thinks the defendant is "not a danger to others" so clearly, by others, he means other men. Which is debatable to begin with, but forgetting that, let's just focus on how this judge just discounted over 50% of the population as simply not being worth the protection of the legal system.

Any time that a woman is sexually assaulted and chooses to speak up about it, she is then required to prove her case repeatedly in order to even be believed, let alone served justice. In many cases this is impossible, so speaking up brings the victim nothing but humiliation and public scandal. The Stanford victim's case should have been an exception to this. It should have been a clear cut case for the justice system. It should have been a shining moment where we all got to sit back and think, "Take that, RAPISTS! You don't always get to slip away cleanly into the night." After all, she was completely unconscious while being assaulted, a very obvious sign she was not consenting, and the two young men that witnessed her being assaulted even managed to catch her attacker. So the mystery rapist she'd never met was identified, arrested, and everyone knew what he had done.

Pretty clear case, no?

No. Of course not, because this rapist is a rich white kid from the suburbs. He's an athlete. People like him. So... clearly this unconscious woman being assaulted behind a dumpster MUST HAVE WANTED TO BE VIOLATED WHILE UNCONSCIOUS. That's what the rapist's lawyers tried to prove, as insane as that sounds, and the victim had to go through the despicable process of disproving that. Luckily, the jury didn't buy that argument. They were not fooled. They said, nice try, slimeball attorneys, but we're still convinced that this was felony sexual assault. Thank you, jurors!

Now, surely, we can all rest easy that thanks to these convictions justice will be served.

But no... because rich, white, male rapist from the suburbs is a young athlete who was drunk and... and... the rich, white, male judge feels sorry for him? I still can't quite fathom how those three counts of felony sexual assault lead to a six month jail sentence with possible time off for good behavior. I can't. But that's what's happening, and it is so very very wrong.

Because the victim shouldn't have to live knowing that the court system thinks so little of her as a person that her experience, her own personal hell that she so clearly and eloquently described for us in a 13 page letter, is not worth making HER RAPIST SUFFER.

Let's do a brief experiment, shall we?

Raise your hand if you've ever been drunk at a party with members of the sex you're attracted to.

*raises hand*

Now raise your hand if you have ever forced any part of your body into another person's body while you or they (or both) were drunk.

Nope. Not me. Probably not most of you reading this.

If you raised your hand, you should take a long moment to think about why you did that. Unless you were shoving your fingers down their throat to clear their airway so you could start rescue breathing, you probably sexually assaulted them and you should think about what that means and why it's wrong. Consider turning yourself over to the police or, at the very least, making a sincerely heartfelt apology to your victim.

Now, if so many of us have managed to get through life without sexually assaulting people while intoxicated at parties, why on earth would we not hold those who fail in this to a higher standard?

This was not "alcohol and promiscuity" leading people astray (as the defendant tried to assert in his own letter). This was not "a young athlete with his blood up." This was not EXCUSABLE in any way, and it wasn't just a minor behavioral hiccough. It is clear enough from the rapist's own letter to the judge, as well as his father's letter, that he doesn't understand what he did wrong. He really doesn't. Which means he is very likely to do it again. Which means his stupidly short sentence is an affront to all of his potential future victims, which, in case I'm not being clear here is ALL WOMEN.

If that doesn't make you angry, I don't know what to say to you.

Maybe you don't think of women as humans either. Maybe you consider us places to rest your penis. Maybe you think we're just decorative. Maybe you think we shouldn't be allowed to say no to you. If you think any of those things, you need to get yourself to a therapist quickly. You are not currently a good human being and you need help.

If anything, this story brings to harsh light why we still need feminism: We need to have conversations about equality, about consent, about our rights, about justice and what it really means, and about how we've come to live in a society where a young man can sexually assault an unconscious woman, be caught in the act, and get away with a slap on the wrist.

We need feminism and feminists and we need as many as we can get. We need people to start these conversations, and to get angry about the lack of justice, and to plaster it all over social media and to use their platforms of fame and fortune to make people hear the story. We need ALL the feminists.

Which is why reading articles like this one, in which we see feminists telling other feminists that they're doing it wrong, annoys me a bit. Don't get me wrong, there is a sort of entry level feminism that some people never get past that isn't as useful to the movement as the deeper more thoughtful levels, but people have to start somewhere. And if a Dove commercial that addresses how women see themselves vs. how others see them gets some people thinking about body image and self confidence then that's great. If it gets more people talking about how the media portrays women and how that affects body image, even better, and when it comes full circle and folks start asking themselves why we're listening to a large company like Dove market themselves via commercial feminism, then we're really finally getting somewhere.

The points is, all of those levels of thought and questioning serve a purpose and move us towards progress. Some of those questions are more palatable to entry level feminists, but the more one begins to question things, the more one continues to question things. So, if fledgling feminists want to explore the issue of whether or not waxing makes them a 'bad feminist' or if wearing heels and pink makes them a bad feminist, or whatever other somewhat shallower feminist issue is a problem, then they should go right ahead. Because talking about how feminism is about choice, or about how judging the superficial choices of others is not feminism, will only serve to bring more people into the conversation and that's precisely what we need.

If all the feminists who, over the past few years, have explored these issues on their blogs are all in a better place to recognize and talk about the injustice in the Stanford rape case this week, if they are all in a place where they can hold up a megaphone and a spotlight and say "LOOK AT THIS AND SEE THAT IT IS WRONG," then we are winning. Slowly but surely, we are making progress. And I don't care how many times I have to read a blog post about a woman realizing that whether or not she decides to depilate has no effect her standing as a feminist, as long as, at the end of the day, we have a larger audience looking at the real injustices of the world and recognizing them for what they are.

Commercial feminism, cupcake feminism, or whatever else you want to call it, serves a purpose.

Perhaps when there are enough Dove commercials promoting positive body image, Beyonce songs about not needing a man, hot male feminists like Joseph Gordon Levitt, frivolous blog posts about clothing choices, and major motion pictures featuring female leads who kick more ass than their male counterparts, there will also be judges that won't assign six month sentences to convicted rapists.

So, I welcome all the feminists. The ones that aren't too sure what it's all about yet, the ones who are worried they're doing it wrong, the ones who don't understand how to look deeper yet, the ones who question their life choices from a feminist perspective and then recognize that they aren't actually 'doing it wrong' and decide to write about it, and yes, I welcome the feminists who are annoyed by the newbs, tell people they're doing it wrong, and long for the old days when feminists knew what a movement "really was."

We need each other, all of us, to keep having these discussions and having them publicly, to bring more people in. To make more people recognize that they too are *gasp* a feminist at heart. Because when everyone is a feminist of some kind then perhaps we will finally be in a place where the conversation doesn't have to be about rapists going unpunished.

Welcome, feminists. Let's talk.


  1. HEAR, HEAR!!! I couldn't have said it any better!

    1. Thanks you, Jess! I take that as the highest compliment. I would wager that you could actually do better than I did and I would love to hear your take on it. :-)

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  2. Thank you, Virginia. Wise words, well spoken.

  3. Me too, extremely well put.
    (And uber-kudos to the woman concerned who had the guts and the words to put that letter together and read it out).

    1. Thanks, Angela! (Not sure how I missed this reply, but thank you.) And agreed, the woman who wrote that letter has more courage than the average human.

  4. Awesome post, Leebert! Glad I went back and caught up on missed posts.