Let me start with a photo from the video with which I will end this post, and hopefully the feeling of coming full-circle will be present.
Two commercials on television in the past year have greatly disturbed me. The first bothers me more than the second, likely due to the nature of nakedness and implicit indications of the language, while the second is more subtle, but there’s that darned spectrum again, eh? Here are both of them, and then we will get to what I’ve been processing about sexual assault and rape culture, lately.
Household Product Labeling Acts, brought to you by Method.
Zicam Don’t Let the Cold Monster Catch You
So let’s break down what is true about both of these commercials. (1) What is to be interpreted is a women who is under scrutiny or attack by male voices or a male/dominant figure. (2) These air on television, and as non-alcoholic commercials could be broadcast during any television show, thus visible to many types of audiences. (3) Everyday understanding of threats or violations against women has permeated our culture to the extent that they are used as advertising ploys, to convince women that their suffering of a dirty shower or congested upper respiratory tract is somehow equitable to being privately or publicly threatened, and most women understand what that feels like, so don’t you want to purchase our product to avoid that? (4) The perception is that the women have control over the situation (dirty shower = verbal attack, stuffy nose = cornered in an alleyway) if they do the logical thing (purchase the cleaner = purchase the medication = what in real life when these situations happen???).
As part of current advertising and media culture, this is, of course, part of the chicken-or-the-egg argument. Which came first? The culture that is so saturated with ideas of women as objects who are threatened that it becomes ripe for advertisement, or the advertisement plot line further perpetrating the cultural system? One thing is for sure – the ads don’t help, and for indirect learning and growing minds, media is only a part of the developing unknown, intrinsic belief system if no other positive reinforcement is present. Remember this video and discussion?
So, as adults who have completed myelination as sponges in a culture dripping with women as the lesser, we learn how to relate to each other. We learn how to converse, to feel, to be angry, to express emotions, and to move on in our own way. What does that look like for some?
One example is women’s perceptions of other women in situations where they are, or could be, under attack. Lately there has been some wonderful discussion around slut-shaming, and how women judge other women’s approaches to their own sex lives, and the perception of risk someone takes in the world of sexually active adults: slut-shaming versus victim blaming. AKA, women not realizing that this language only corroborates the learning that women are at risk and there is something different we should be doing about it, it is our own fault (enter shower cleaner or antihistamine here, apparently).
And then, there’s something new I learned about recently: revenge porn and #wakeupwitharandom. Melinda Tankard Reist gives a great intro to the phenomenon’s initiation, and the issues of a woman’s photo being posted online without her consent. Now, as a recent academic, I remember in school when I learned about things-I-didn’t-know-were-things and my mind was exploding with that brain-wrinkling activity of learning. This is one wrinkle I wish I could smooth out. Clearly I’m a little late to the game, as S.E. Smith from XO Jane put up this post in November 2012.
Revenge porn is when someone posts naked photos or videos of an ex-partner in an effort to “get back at them” for some wrong-doing in the relationship or split. Here’s a break-down by Jill Filipovic at The Guardian:
“…On revenge porn sites, users upload x-rated photos of women (often ex girlfriends or lovers) without the women’s permission. Send a naughty photo to your boyfriend and when it turns out he’s a pig, your image is all over the internet, often with your name, location and links to your social media accounts. The purpose of revenge porn isn’t to allow regular guys the opportunity to see some naked girls-next-door; it’s explicitly purposed to shame, humiliate and destroy the lives and reputations of young women.
Luckily, some of those women are refusing to be shamed into silence.More than two dozen of them have filed a lawsuit against one of the websites, Texxxan.com, as well as its host, GoDaddy.com. Some of the women have lost their jobs; all of them have been exposed and exploited, first by men they trusted and then by entities simply looking to make a buck off of misogyny.
Gender cyber harassment is nothing new (pdf), and revenge porn sites are part of a widespread, deeply sexist online culture everywhere from blog comment sections to YouTube videos to message boards. Anonymous sexualized harassment of women online has been around since AOL chatrooms, and it seems to be getting more mainstreamed, more organized and more efficient. The internet is not a nice place to be a woman – something I found out first-hand, and not just through the ongoing threats, harassment and stalking I’ve received as a feminist blogger…”
In what feels like a ridiculous nod to fairness in a conversation about the unequal, this could be in existence for men. Ay, there’s the cultural rub – and I bring you back to our media-driven examples of the commercials above. It’s not equal, it’s not the same, it’s not brought to use that way, and without hard work in the opposite direction, we don’t learn it that way. Jill goes on:
“Society sees it differently – at least when the nude photo is of a woman. There aren’t popular revenge porn sites with pictures of naked men, because as a society we don’t think it’s inherently degrading or humiliating for men to have sex. Despite the fact that large numbers of women watch porn, there are apparently not large numbers of women who find sexual gratification in publicly shaming and demeaning men they’ve slept with.
And that is, fundamentally, what these revenge porn sites are about. They aren’t about naked girls; there are plenty of those who are on the internet consensually. It’s about hating women, taking enjoyment in seeing them violated, and harming them.
The owners to Texxxan.com practically said as much when, in defending their website, they posted a message saying, “Maybe [sic] the site provided an outlet for anger that prevented physical violence (this statement will be very controversial but is at least worth thinking about).” In other words, these are men who hate women to the degree that they’d be hitting them if they didn’t have revenge porn as an outlet for their rage. They’re angry because women have the nerve to exist in the universe as sexual beings…”
Whew, deep breath. Prevented physical violence? By allowing those individuals, who are figuring out the spectrum of where they are most comfortable with violating women, an outlet of public humiliation through pictures posted on the internet? Just, wow.
Jane Hollier gives a great update to the issue here, keeping us informed that many women who have been harmed by this issue are taking action.
Perhaps I haven’t fully connected the dots in this post. Perhaps I could do more work to explain how, in my mind, these things are all connected. Or perhaps you’re with me, and are as equally frustrated by the spectrum. I have been working on a parallel post about recent media coverage of rapes, including those mass-publicized about the women in India, in Steubenville, in South Bend. And perhaps it is with both posts that I will find a way solidify this exhausting argument.
I leave you with this.