Weekly Digest: Media Edition

I still have not been able to see The Hunting Ground.  But I know it matters.  This film about sexual assault on campus is working toward undoing the silence surrounding the crisis of assault on campuses.  In an interview with NPR the filmmakers talked about their motivations and challenges.

Clark: Yeah I would hope that all students know that they have a right to a safe education and fair learning environment. And I really hope that we put the burden on men to say: Don’t rape. You know instead of telling women: Here’s a safety whistle. That conversation needs to change. But I will say I know survivors out there are listening right now and I just would like them to know that it’s not your fault, and I believe you, and you are not alone.

It is hard for me to imagine that we are still having this conversation, that we need to say out loud that students have the right to be safe on a campus.  When I ask my students, they tell me they don’t feel safe.  During class students discussed the Rapex condom mentioned in Half the Sky.  I asked them to sit and think for a minute in the quiet:  what does it mean about our world when such a product can even come into existence?  What does it mean that when I finally see people saying the words “put the burden on men to say: Don’t rape,” I feel the tightening in my chest loosen a bit.  I have been part of this fight for 20 years. To hear others say publicly what we have been saying for decades in meetings and classrooms feels good.  The more the message it heard, the better chance we have to chip away together at this awfulness.

Several people brought to my attention an issue having to do with Instagram and a woman who posted a picture showing her menstrual blood.

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Rupi Kahr was creating a digital essay considering menstruation in society.  When Instagram took down the photo, she wrote a long response.  Here is part of it:

I bleed each month to help make humankind a possibility. My womb is home to the divine, a source of life for our species, whether i choose to create or not. But very few times is it seen that way. In older civilizations this blood was considered holy. In some it still is. But a majority of people, societies, and communities shun this natural process. Some are more comfortable with the pornification, the sexualization of women, the violence and degradation of women than this.

Now that I saw this, I wish I had taken pictures to do a digital essay of my fertility journey. Syringes. Pictures of machinery. Sometimes the words feel like they aren’t enough.  Digital rhetoric is going to force social media platforms to reconsider their vulgarity stances.  As she says in an earlier post, she isn’t nude.  I don’t know about you, but I see way more revealing photos on my feed.  I know some of this is an ick factor, but we need to ask ourselves WHY there is an ick factor.  This is something women do every month.  Humanity wouldn’t exist without these bits of blood.  Are they so awful?  I still remember the t-shirt that men wore in the 90’s:  “Never trust anything that bleeds every month and doesn’t die.”  Time for periods to be seen as part of life, not some dark secret (though some months I do wish I could go hang out in the red tent with my friends).   For more menstruation news, check out bitch magazine’s piece on pads being taxed, TAXED, in the UK.

When it comes to the publishing world, the news is just as grim.  As my band of fellow female writers can attest to, being published as a woman is a hard gig (yes, getting published at all is tough, but there are still differences in the experience).  Salon reported on the latest numbers when it comes to gender parity in publishing:

VIDA, which released the results of its fifth annual 2014 count on Tuesday, has confirmed more of what we already knew: Men are exceedingly overrepresented in the literary world, for reasons that are varied and hard to pin down. The results aren’t all bad, and VIDA did discover that several outlets that promised to step up their efforts to achieve gender equality have, in fact, improved.

Being published in top media news outlets is the key that opens doors to careers as a writer.  There is a real material consequence for women.  Jenny Kutner explains the cultural consequences of these findings:

When VIDA shows time and again that women are not represented anywhere near equally to men, the next step isn’t to say, “Well, women don’t submit work as often as men do” — as many editors have said before. The next step is to ask why that’s the case, if that’s the case at all. The next step is to reach out and push harder and question editorial practices. Because this isn’t just the literary landscape; it’s a microcosm of the real world.

This is the same argument as “binders full of women.”  Women are writing.  And trying to get published (me! me!).  I have heard people high up in universities say that they don’t get “qualified female applicants.”  I call bullshit.  Parity in publishing matters.  Parity everywhere matters.  The LA Review of Books published this excellent long form piece on women and publishing.  Katherine Angel has more room to offer a more nuanced argument and call to action, all worth reading.  Here’s what she wants to see change:

If one believes that gender imbalance matters, then reflection on one’s methods is the only way progress will be made. What’s more, the conversation will remain stymied unless all are willing to reflect on their own unconscious habits, as readers, writers, and editors. And no change will happen if critiques of one’s decision-making are responded to as if they are accusations of an overt, malignant sexism. Such a response enables affront and defensiveness, neither of which encourages self-scrutiny. It also enables an opportunistic dismissal of critiques. We all labor under unconscious bias — no one is special where that is concerned. And none of us are exempt from unintentionally reproducing the inequalities our environment presents to us. We stumble along, making immediate decisions under pressure, often feeling too powerless, too irritated, too defensive, and sometimes simply too busy and tired to examine our decision-making more closely. We make imperfect choices in an imperfect world, but denying that we have choices is not an option. In any case, a response like the LRB’s that points to obstacles outside its control and raises its hands in resignation, even in troubled resignation, is still an active choice. Concerted reflection on this problem can be difficult and frustrating. But isn’t it a magazine’s responsibility, once an indefensible and consistent disparity has been revealed, to pause and — without taking criticism quite so personally — to actively, imaginatively, and seriously seek ways to redress it?

All I ask from all of us is “concerted reflection.” Such action is hard.  But if we are going to change, mustn’t we examine ourselves and then take steps to change?

As for the awfulness at Rolling Stone, I will let Jon Stewart speak for me…

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2 comments

  1. Hi Dr. Clemmens, I was hoping you could help me think of a piece of literature. You taught it in your World Literature class. It was about a man and woman who are separated he is on a boat at sea and she is back in their home land. The story is written in letters. You said if you were to teach it in high school you would teach it alongside Romeo and Juliet.
    Sincerely,
    Emily

    1. “Children of the Sea” by Danticat

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