Mar 17 2008

Ex-journalist blames patriarchy

If “So what about some good news, Twisty?” is your constant refrain, today is your lucky day. Now don’t get too excited, it’s not like Dripping Springs, TX has passed a resolution banning the word “Lady” from its high school sports team or anything. But here’s a piece in the Vancouver Sun drawing attention to recent work by reporter-turned-U of Winnipeg professor Shannon Sampert, who has written on journalists’ role in perpetuating woman-blaming rape myths.

And you know what, these woman-blaming rape myths are some of my Number One hide-chapping myths! You know the ones I mean:

“She got too drunk at the bar.”
“She was a whore to begin with.”
“She didn’t fight back hard enough; she must have really wanted it.”
“She’s a lying bitch out to totally screw that innocent dude.”
“What did she expect, with those boobs, walking alone at night, walking alone period, walking alone without an assault cannon, 8 bodyguards and a pack of Dobermans?”

These bogus she-asked-for-it stereotypes chap my hide most sorely when they appear disguised as fact in mainstream media reports. Sampert lays the blame for the proliferation of such fictions at the stinky feet of the police, whose storied misogynist views are too often reported verbatim by journalists.

‘The police’, it should be noted, is an entity that exists solely to protect the interests of the dominant culture, so it comes as no great shock that when cops talk to reporters about rape they use the language of patriarchy, their governing body. Sampert, something of a breath of fresh air, argues not only that cops need to cut it out with this shame-the-victim crap, but that reporters need to take more responsibility in raising the level of discourse when they write about rape. Her theory is that if the media quits portraying rape victims as filthy drunken whores, women might be more likely to report their assaults. Because right now, in Canada, it is estimated that 90% of rapes go unreported, yep you read that right.

One of the more rampant phrases not mentioned in the article, but which journalists use to sanitize and normalize rape like no other, is “child prostitute” (in fact, prostitution, which can only be defined as rape, is mysteriously absent from this piece; undoubtedly the author is adhering to the global mainstream media religio which says that prostitutes “choose” their “profession” and therefore cannot be victimized). As though a 13-year-old female kid has any kind of agency whatsoever. But Jesus tap-dancing Christ, a ‘child prostitute’ isn’t some guileful sexy nubile, or a piece of trash; she is an abused, exploited, trafficked child. Not that I’m some kind of paragon, but I do try to reduce my misogynist footprint wherever I can, and the fact that I’ve used this term myself reveals how ingrained and accepted it is. Read more about this, one of my newest pet peeves, here.

Dang. I guess I just can’t keep it light.


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  1. goblinbee

    Having just come from your incisive journalism, the article seemed really lukewarm. But I’m glad for anything.

  2. TP

    I was glad to see the donate page on the SAGE website, the one Twisty links to with the definition of child prostitute.

    I have decided, after many years of feeling somewhat unable to make a truly informed decision about charities in general, that supporting charities that fight prostitution and shelter battered women is the best way contribute. They seem to be the most needy, the least served, and the most unhip of all charities. Bored rich white men unfit for real work never go into these kinds of charities to get them off their family’s hands as they do so many other charities.

  3. Dr. Steph

    Glad to see someone taking on the police and media for how they perpetuate rape myths. But sad that I don’t think they’re about to stop. Telling the truth about rape probably won’t sell papers.

  4. BadKitty

    Our local newspaper just reported a case of child sexual abuse by stating that the perpetrators “had sex” with two 7 yr olds. Nice.

    I’m on the board of directors for the local sexual assault “prevention” agency (lord knows we try but mostly we get to help victims pick up the pieces afterwards), and yeah, that 90% number applies to the U.S., too. Try to convince the rape apologists of that and it gets real ugly real fast.

  5. BadKitty

    TP – Sexual assault victim’s advocacy agencies are always in desperate needs of funds, so PLEASE!! spread the word! I’m on the board of one and I can attest to our constant search for funding. Domestic assault advocacy groups seem to do better in terms of grants and government funding but sexual assault is the dirty secret that no one wants to talk about. I can stop a conversation dead in its tracks by mentioning what I do. If people are looking for a charity that really needs you, look up your local agency in the phone book and do what you can. We will love you for it.

  6. ceejay1968

    I just had to mention your side comment about the girls’ sports teams being called “Lady” whatevers. Here, the boys’ team at my daughter’s school is the “Wildcats.” The girls’ team is the “Lady Cats.”

    I thought I was going to explode when I first found that out!

  7. mearl

    Hurrah for my awesome university and its awesome prof!!(Sorry, Winnipeg-pride neurological takeover.)

  8. slythwolf

    Thank you for what you do, BadKitty. Thank you so much.

  9. Bitch, Esquire

    Hey, Badkitty, check out the Judicial Language Project at New England School of Law. They analyze judicial opinions for inappropriate language (like “had sex” with a 7yo) and suggest alternatives. Useful ammo for editorials, IMO.

    It’s at http://www.nesl.edu/clsr/projects/SDVP/svnews/jlp/public/

    Disclosure: I am an alum of the school and currently work there.

  10. chingona

    Thanks for posting this. At the risk of outing myself, I am a member of the much-maligned mainstream media, so I know a bit about the subject. Police reporters often (though not always) are among the most inexperienced reporters in the newsroom, and they spend a lot of time around police, causing them to absorb a lot of attitudes from them (not to mention what they bring to the job from our general culture, which sometimes means a low opinion of women). Being inexperienced, they tend to report/repeat stuff in police jargon or exactly as it was said to them without putting much critical thought into it. One headline at my own paper that outraged me and a lot of other people who work here referred to “sexually motivated crimes.” Now, to me, a sexually motivated crime would someone holding up a liquor store to get money for his Viagra. Someone hiding in the shadows and jumping out and exposing himself and grabbing women by their crotches and breasts (which was what was occuring) is a sex crime, or heaven forbid, a sexual assault. Calling it sexually motivated perpetuates this reprehensible and false idea that guys do this because they are just too hot and bothered to help themselves. And this is an institutional problem. Newbies make lots of mistakes, but a lot of them don’t make it in the paper. Editors don’t always see these things as problems because they just don’t see them. They don’t get it. In the media, we have a huge responsibility, but we’re only as good or as bad as the people that work here, and like most of society, a lot of us just don’t get it.

    What to do? People need to let newspapers know what bothers them about how rape is presented in the paper and why. Don’t just contact the reporter. If the newspaper has a public editor or reader advocate, get in touch with them. Ask for a meeting with the top editors. Write a letter to the editor. Your paper probably will not reform itself overnight, but you may get rule changes in the style book, which dictates the language newspapers use for certain situations, and you may get new directions given to copy editors to watch for certain language that is particularly common and problematic. It’s not much, but it’s a start.

    (I’m not suggesting you cannot be pissed off until you take these steps, just saying that newspapers don’t exist in a vacuum and can be subject to community pressure, particularly if it comes from a respected group that works with victims of sexual assault or domestic violence, rather than an individual who can be dismissed as overly sensitive.)

  11. invisible hussein

    Yes, well.

    “She got too drunk at the bar.”
    “She was a whore to begin with.”
    “She didn’t fight back hard enough; she must have really wanted it.”
    “She’s a lying bitch out to totally screw that innocent dude.”
    “What did she expect, with those boobs, walking alone at night, walking alone period, walking alone without an assault cannon, 8 bodyguards and a pack of Dobermans?”

    Please, when I finally understood that men talked, I began to condemn them.

    Too inflamatory? Who says?

  12. Serafina

    As though a 13-year-old female kid has any kind of agency whatsoever.

    Sure she does. That’s why I’m for giving her the right to an abortion and to leave her parents’ house freely if she is abused, even if there’s no proof of that abuse.

    I bring this up because runaway teens are a big source of fodder for the sex industry, and changing the way we think of teen girls and their rights and their agency would be a good start to altering this trend. We could give them options besides “live on the streets or go back to your parents unless you have actual broken bones, in which case we’ll put you in foster care.”

  13. Twisty

    In a patriarchy, nobody has less agency than a female child. In Twisty version of post-patriarchy, 13 year old kids could ditch their parents whether they are abused or not. Because this wacky notion that kids are more or less the property of their families has got to go.

  14. bigbalagan

    I wonder if there is any way to have an offset program for one’s misogynist footprint, like they are trying to do for carbon? I think some Twisty-out-of-the-box would be appropriate on that one.

    To you comments in comments, I don’t know whether one would call the oppression of women or of children the more painful and critical issue in the world—not that one needs to commensurate about multiple disasters, where, after all, both abused populations are huge—but I think it is clear that of the two, there is even less discussion/analysis/identification of the blatant and universal oppression of children than of women. These oppressions share some key features, such as the default positions of chattel ownership by the male overlords, and perhaps (in the case of children) by the adult overlords.

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