Sep 13 2013

Anti-twerkite lacks clue re: rape culture

The degree to which news media luxuriate in the perpetuation of rape culture has long chapped the spinster hide, so it was with pleasure this morning that I read this ThinkProgress piece by Annie-Rose Strasser and Tara Culp-Ressler (to whom for the sake of brevity I will henceforth refer as ‘the authors’): “How Not To Publish Columns Justifying Rape: A Step-By-Step Guide For Editors.”

The authors note therein a few recent examples wherein national columnists “cater to rape culture and gloss over the gruesome reality of sexual assault.” Their prime culprit, “Miley Cyrus, Steubenville, and teen culture run amok” by WaPo’s Richard Cohen, masquerades as a wholesome, avuncular chappie’s views on the poor taste exhibited by today’s youth, but is in fact a boorish screed by an old white dude that essentially and nonsensically blames Miley Cyrus for the phenomenon of teen rape.

OK, come on. In your experience, how many old white dudes who bloviate on rape in mainstream media have the slightest idea what they’re talking about? Not Richard Cohen, that’s for sure. He seems to think it is of dire, material importance that the Steubenville attack did not involve “intercourse” (Well duh. No rape involves intercourse. Intercourse, unlike rape, is not an act of violence. What the astonishingly clueless Cohen appears so eager to convey is that the rapists used something other than their penises for penetration, which I guess makes them … what? Less guilty? Like, it wasn’t rape if they didn’t get off? Seriously?). He implies that this meaningless distinction, coupled with the notion that there were “only” two convictions, should soften the rabid reader’s view of the general severity of the case. And that’s just the beginning. Read the whole thing if you haven’t already; you’ll howl.

The authors go on to speculate — not entirely unfacetiously — that editors of such articles might not entirely grasp the antifeminist gist contained in this species of crapola. As a remedy they suggest four rules of thumb for determining whether an opinion piece (which, say, uses the Steubenville rape case to wag a gnarled claw at Miley-Cyrus-and-these-kids-today) is in fact part of the problem. Which — let’s face it — if it’s written by an old white dude so decent and proprietous and blissfully ignorant of popular culture that he can claim he had to Google “twerk”, it probably is.

Anyway, the seasoned patriarchy blamer will recognize all four items on Strasser and Culp-Ressler’s rape-apologist checklist, for they are ancient — as ancient as half-assed journalism itself.

Does [the piece] defend or sympathize with rapists?
Does it fault the victims, instead of those who committed a crime?
Does it downplay illegal actvity by using more casual terminology for rape?
Does it use rape as a hook in a ‘trend piece’ meant to draw sweeping conclusions about society’s moral depravity?

Like so many before it, Cohen’s column is 4 for 4! And for bonus jacknut points, he even asserts that it’s Miley Cyrus who is responsible for the modern woman’s debased status, rather than the incontinent, porn-sick audiences who fetishize femininity compliance and demand hypersexualized performances from women entertainers. And then, as his parting shot, he calls Cyrus “a twerk.” Oh snap!

And it’s not just the columnists. You cannot swing a cat video anywhere on the Internet without hitting an example of crappy rape reporting. That’s because a) rape is epidemic, b) police reporters tend to merely regurgitate the rape-apologist language often used in original police reports, and c) editors shy away from truly accurate representation because they deem it too graphic for the fine sensibilities of their gentle readers.

Here’s a compare-and-contrast:

The final paragraph of the Think Progress piece quotes Poynter on the subject of sugar-coating rape with watered-down, inaccurate, and blame-shifting terminology:

“[Journalists] say, for instance, that a young girl ‘performed an oral sex act,’ rather than, ‘He forced his genitals into her mouth.’”


Just this morning, immediately after reading the aforementioned Think Progress piece, I ran across a textbook case. It was an AP report documenting the September 10 arrest of a Dallas neighborhood watch volunteer who, sickeningly, turned out to be the Fair Park rapist:

“[A]ccording to Dallas police documents, he grabbed four women late at night and forced them to perform oral sex.” [cite]

Even though it employs the verb “forced” in connection with the rapist himself, the non-passive phraseology in Fair Park story still manages to turn the victims into guileful, complicit actors, contriving an inaccurate narrative that erases their experience by characterizing as a “performance” of “oral sex” what was actually a violent assault by a gun-wielding criminal.

In criminal jurisprudence, this victim-blaming standard applies only to rape. As Dahlia Lithwick suggested back in 2007, the victim of a mugging would never in a million years be described as merely giving his attacker a loan. Sex is a synonym for rape in our culture only because we maintain an official sex class — women — to provide receptacles for male hatred to penetrate.

In conclusion: Richard Cohen, if twerking bums you out, don’t blame the twerkers. Blame the patriarchy. If DudeNation didn’t clamor for it, buy it, reward it, celebrate it, and write about it incessantly, twerking would cease to exist overnight.


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  1. Jessie

    Wasn’t there also a dude on stage during that Miley Cyrus performance? Funny how no one seems to be criticizing him.

  2. linda

    Miley has been exposed to show business since childhood. She was taught from the first that to be wanted, valued, appreciated was to be sexy, to display her fuckability. If show business hadn’t done it, every other aspect of her life would have. What can they expect from her now????

    I believe women should, when a penis is forced into their mouth, bite the damn thing as hard as possible. The human jaw exerts hundreds of pounds of pressure per square inch. Let him draw back a bloody stub.

  3. Twisty

    @Jessie I have not seen the video, believe it or not, but on one of those cable news morning shows they were all up in arms about this “shocking” incident, and portrayed the dude as an innocent victim of Cyrus’ slutty vamping. No matter what the culture, women are always responsible for men’s sexual purity.

    @linda I feel ya on the subject of oral violations, I really do, and I get that you were being facetious to illustrate your rage, but just an FYI: I’ve found, over my many years as an Internet Feminist, that when you start using the word “should” regarding women’s behavior — particularly when you’re talking about expectations for women’s behavior during a rape — it can veer easily into victim-blamey territory.

  4. Jessie

    I haven’t seen her performance either, but the way a lot of news commentators were acting, I would have figured she whipped out a chainsaw and started massacring people.

    I heard a song on the radio by the dude performing with her and all I can say is he’s not exactly innocent. He’s a massive misogynist. Here’s a little sample of his work:

    What do they make dreams for
    When you got them jeans on
    What do we need steam for
    You the hottest bitch in this place
    I feel so lucky
    Hey, hey, hey
    You wanna hug me
    Hey, hey, hey
    What rhymes with hug me?
    Hey, hey, hey

    The video is also vile, and makes it clear that he thinks of women as llive masturbation aids.

  5. linda

    Yes, Twisty, you are right. If it actually happened, the woman would be blamed/vilified to the nth degree. I should really just speak for myself. And I wasn’t being facetious in my own case: if it ever happens to me again, that is exactly what I plan to do. Thanks for your response!

  6. Twisty

    Linda, you provide yet another reason not to fall behind on the dentist appointments.

  7. shopstewardess

    “How many old white dudes who bloviate on rape in mainstream media have the slightest idea what they’re talking about?” you ask.

    Darling Twisty, of course the old white dudes know what they are talking about when they talk about rape – they are (or were, when younger) the rapists, and they have spent the whole of their lives being the friends of rapists, and the laughers at rape jokes, and the slut shamers. They are merely reporting rape from the matrix of their own privileges, experiences and prejudices.

    They don’t know anything about being a victim of rape, of course, and couldn’t even begin to understand why it might be important to acknowledge or report the victim’s experience.

  8. Maritess Zurbano

    I thank the Goddesses you’re back Twisty.

  9. Layo

    My take on Miley’s performance was that she had little creative input and danced the way a choreographer told her to. The choreographer, in turn, was pandering to the pedo dads who fantasized about her during her Hannah Montana years, but in a sort of brutal and sarcastic way. The twerking probably ruined pedo-dad fantasies about debauching Miley’s little-girl innocence themselves, and I suspect that she realized being obscene would have that effect and it was her own way of saying “FU”. In the meantime, she plans to use her fame and get money.

    I notice that nobody has a problem with parents selling their children to Disney Corporation, where they’re prematurely sexualized and robbed of a childhood, AND marketed to the dads of Disney’s supposedly youthful audience as Lolita material. It’s not harmless; look how screwed-up Disney child stars tend to be as adults. It’s pretty vile to mock these exploitation victims for having not a clue what’s appropriate from the point of view of mainstream culture after having been surrounded by an extremely sophisticated and probably pervy adult media crew telling them how to be the best product possible. But people just envy them because they’re famous and presumably rich, never mind that they will never be the same; there is no way they were not changed at the core by being treated like that for years and years and they will never know what they lost.

  10. Twisty

    I’m no Disney cheerleader by any stretch, but I’m not sure their alumnae are any more screwed up than non-Disney celebrities.

    I finally watched the twerk video, though. When it was over I was all “is that it? It broke no new ground, obscenity-wise, that I’m aware of. What stood out to me wasn’t Cyrus’ dance moves, but that she doesn’t seem to be too hot of a singer. Then again, it’s probably pretty hard to carry a tune when you’re shaking your moneymaker while bent over in a submissive sex posture.

  11. tinfoil hattie

    Yowza! You’re back!

    First: I’m so sorry you had a lobe-blowing stretch. I worried it was coming, when I read about the death of your cistern, horse problems, etc. – and THEN we passed through a delightful summer of stepped-up woman-hate!

    Second: I didn’t know what “twerking” is, either. Had to google it.

    Third: Did you recently celebrate a birthday (asked Nancy Drew)? If so, Happy Birthday.

    Finally: The phrase that sends me into ragey screamfests is “So-and-so male teacher at thus-and-such school admitted to HAVING SEX WITH several students.”

    AAARRRRGGGGH! Give me something to bite down on!

  12. Helen Huntingdon

    I can’t help thinking that every time some gross old white dude expresses dismay over Miley Cyrus, she thinks, “Awesome, must be doing it right”.

  13. Barbara P

    Ha! Here are some new euphemisms:

    Forced the person to allow your knife through their chest
    Forced the giver to donate money to your cause
    Forced a pay raise/contracting fee (embezzlement)
    Forced invitation (burglary)
    Forced gift-giving (robbery)
    Forced the person to accept your massage (strangulation)
    Forced collusion (blackmail)

    Makes it sound like the world is so much nicer, with all that donating and inviting and such.

  14. Keri

    Have you seen this video from India about rape culture? Powerful satire, poignant, terrifying.


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