Saturday, February 14, 2009

RapeLay videogame: Some thoughts

When I first read about this story on The Curvature and subsequently started linking to these articles and websites about this game, I grew more and more disturbed with pretty much everything about it and thought a little synthesis and analysis was in order. The game needs a bit of an introduction. It's received some press since briefly had the game up for sale in the UK before the post was removed.

RapeLay is a Japanese videogame developed by Illusionsoft in which the player operates the main character to rape a family of women - a mother and two daughters - to beat the game. Features of the game include recruiting fellow gang members to participate, controlling wind to blow up the their skirts, tying them up, forcing the woman and girls to abort pregnancies, and raping more than one character at a time and in different sexual positions.

While my thoughts don't necessarily reflect those of SACOMSS, I think most would agree that shock, anger, sadness, and disgust are some common and acceptable reactions to have to RapeLay. But what is especially disturbing about this game and others like it is not just their mere existence- that they're out there for purchase - but what goes into creating, marketing, and participating in them. Behind these games are people who are actively condoning the act of rape (digital though it is, it is sill blatantly and purposefully non-consensual rape; that seems to be part of the fun). There are people who developed and animated these horrific concepts and the minute graphics of "tears glistening in the young girl's eyes" as she is being attacked; there are people who scheme up marketing tactics to make them appeal to the masses (of young boys?) that are potential buyers of videogames; there are people who are a captive and receptive audience to this concept of the sport of rape.

There's a whole market out there for fetishized images of rape and sexual violence - this, other anime and cartoons, rape pornography, simulated rape pornography, the infatuation with snuff film...the list goes on.

As people, as members of SACOMSS, as members of humanity, we have to look at the re-creations of rape in film, gaming, pornography, whatever, from the most critical of eyes. These images that fetishize and condone rape and sexual violence serve to perpetuate a society that does the same, a society that doesn't really believe that no means no, that doesn't acknowledge the gravity of non-consent, and that continues to put the onus of stopping or preventing sexual assault on survivors instead of on the institutions that allow it to be viewed as insignificant or "a game" in the first place.


Women Have Boobs - Get Over It

By Samara Ginsberg

I must say straight away that I am happy with the way I look. There are things that I would change if it were easy to do so. I would like to have longer limbs, and yes, smaller breasts.

But I quite like my body. It’s mine and it’s familiar. It’s good at martial arts and playing the cello and giving hugs. This happiness and acceptance however has been hard-won.

I liked my breasts when they first appeared. I was a 28A for a long time and, while I felt a little self-conscious about these new additions to my physique simply by virtue of the fact that most other 12-year-olds didn’t yet have any at all, I liked them. They were small and perky, in proportion with the rest of me and didn’t get me any unwanted attention.

All of this changed virtually overnight when I was 14. In the space of about three months, I went from an A to an E cup. The way I was treated by people I knew and by strangers completely changed.

My peers began to see me as "slutty," despite the fact that I had never even kissed a boy. The bitchy, popular clique of girls at school tried to recruit me, not seeming to understand why I had little interest in wearing a truly hideous amount of makeup to school and making other girls’ lives hell.

Teachers began to see me as troublesome, giving me detention for minor things. And overnight, I went from being able to walk down the street without even being looked at, to having strangers lean out of car windows to inform me that they would like to fuck my brains out.

Groping my breasts became almost a sport among the boys at school. It would happen in class, during break times, while I passed them in the corridor -- any time that I was within groping distance. Typically, a boy would grab my breasts while his friends whooped and hollered. Occasionally, the friends would be holding me down. I would scream and hit them, but this seemed only to increase their enjoyment. Nobody ever came to my rescue: not the girls, not the other boys whose opinions these male chauvinist piglets probably would have respected the most, and not the teachers whose job it was to intervene. It simply was not regarded as important.

It was seen as an inevitability of my figure, and if I had the temerity to walk down the corridors looking like I did, what did I expect? A boy once told me about a specific sexual fantasy he had, involving tying me up, beating me and raping me. He apparently used to crack one out while imagining this every night. Another boy once asked me, "Hasn’t anybody ever told you a handful is enough?" as if I had deliberately inflated them myself.

It wasn’t just the boys. A campaign of complete lechery from one of my teachers distressed me sufficiently for me to bunk off lessons. He stared at my tits in class, made lewd comments about me in front of everybody and, when I lost weight as a result of being so anxious and upset, chided me because he "liked his women with curves."

When I finally plucked up the courage to complain to my (female) head of year I was simply told: "Don’t worry dear, I’m sure he didn’t mean it."

As I spent many break times hiding in the toilets, the girls would try to say helpful, supportive things. The general consensus was that I should be glad of having big breasts, that I should be happy with them because boys liked them, that perhaps I ought to chill out and enjoy the attention, and that putting up with groping was just the price I had to pay for being hot.

I don’t lack respect for these girls (they were after all only between 14 and 16 years old at the time), but it’s hugely worrying that their kind words didn’t consist instead of: "You shouldn’t have to put up with this," "It’s not your fault," or "Let’s talk to the headmaster and make sure the governors hear about this, because that teacher ought to be fired immediately."

My male friends trivialized the situation, possibly simply fearing the scorn of their classmates, but, for whatever reason, they were disinterested in sticking up for me and generally adopted the same "chill out and enjoy the attention" attitude as the girls. As for the teachers, they turned a blind eye whenever possible, pretended they hadn’t noticed when I was assaulted in their classes and did as little as possible when I specifically asked for their support.

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Sexual harassment in public spaces at a critical level

By Selina Jervis

"I worry about my sister, who told me: ‘If I don’t get commented or honked at on the way to school, I’ll feel really ugly that day.’"

As I sat down write this, my sister arrived home and said a man tried to pull her into a car. She was walking home from the bus stop in broad daylight and a man cruised the curb for a while, trying to talk to her before getting out and grabbing her arm, pulling her towards the car. She pulled away, firmly said no and walked on. She is 17. This might sound unnerving, but as she breezed in, she told the story like a bit of gossip and went straight onto MSN.

I can trace it back to around the age of 14, when men start to catcall and comment in the street. Suddenly as you cross the road their eyes will follow you as they drive round the corner. When you walk past a pub the smokers will croon “hello gorgeous”. There are random encounters with men who may follow you off the bus to “ask you the time”, then ask your name and where you’re going. Women are exposed to harassment all the time, but, as a young woman, it’s worrying to think of the lengths it can reach.

In the past it may have been polite to say a good morning to a woman, so why is it OK now to beep a horn, call a rude name and ask questions. I am 19. In the last few months, men, none younger than 30, have followed me down the road I live on, approached me at bus stops and generally leered from cars as I wait to cross the street. That’s only in the past few months. Since living in a student-dominated part of Manchester for the past year, this summer I noticed the difference at home in inner-city Birmingham and don’t want to take it anymore.

My mum was shocked, and warned my sister again of the dangers of getting into cars and talking to strangers, but she shrugged and said she knew that and brushed it aside. I don’t think parents know that their daughters could receive ‘the look’ as my friends and I call it, on practically a daily basis. It is the stare where a man’s eyes will bore into you and look you up and down before leering or moaning.

This afternoon, for example, I walked through town, down an empty side street, and a man behind me, around 40-years-old, said: “Excuse me love, can I ask you something and you promise you won’t slap me in my face?” As the years have gone by, I realise I’ve developed a variety of reactions, as the number of encounters like this has increased. Sometimes it’s easier to walk on ignoring the person when there are not many people around, so you can survey the area and hurry to a busier place, or say a polite but firm, “No thank you” or “I’m sorry, I’m in a rush.” Today I said: “If you have to ask that, then you shouldn’t say anything.” He said: “I just wanted to ask if your man treats you right?” His suggestive face may have had other connotations, but taking his statement at face value, I said “yes he does”, and walked on. I argue with myself over whether it is extremely inappropriate for a much older man to approach young girls like this – believe me, I look around 16 – or whether this is day-to-day banter in society?

There are different kinds of behaviour that could be deemed acceptable. If a man walked past me and said, “I just had to say, you look lovely today”, I would be flattered. I can say that this never happens. If a group of men honked at me from a van I would laugh it off. Maybe I’ve got used to it, or maybe it’s more acceptable as I’m not a child anymore. I am insulted and creeped out when a man will lick his lips or actually make a move when they could be older than my dad, though. I used to have a range of false names which I would give out and for a time would loudly shout, “I’m 15! Walk on!” I am thankful to all the women and men who have approached me and sincerely asked if I was OK, if a strange man sat next to me on a train and tried to strike up an inquisitive conversation or someone shouted something lewd from a car.

I can understand that a man has a natural reaction when they see a woman or girl they are attracted to, but he doesn’t have to act on it by staring or shouting something. Maybe due to shyness or politeness, a man younger than about 25 has never behaved like this in front of me. But it’s scary that men react this way when they are old enough to have, and possibly already do have, children of their own. How would they like it if someone shouted “oy sexy” at their 14-year-old daughter?

A lot of these men seem strange and sinister. Since winning an award for my blog and appearing in a few local newspapers over a year ago, there have been many times when random men have approached me asking about it. I mentioned to my mum that I was worried about a man who lives on our road who would constantly stare, goggle-eyed at me, and a few weeks ago he approached me in a shop and said: “How’s the website?” This brings up other issues about putting your life on the internet and who has access to it.

Media influences and popular culture may contribute to the uninhibited attitude towards calling out to women. There is constant discussion of kids growing up too fast, with teenage girls applying make-up, straightening hair and using sun beds. There is no reason why this would necessarily be encouragement for attraction; if a woman takes time over her appearance it does not mean she wants to attract men, much like the ‘encouraged rape’ argument. But to men it may be seen as a signal that a 13-year-old can be treated as a woman if she dresses like one, and so it’s OK to perv on children.

Maybe the media representing teenagers as all sexually active, with teenage pregnancy and STIs constant headlines, makes the men believe that girls can be treated as women, therefore it’s acceptable for him to show his attraction and make a move despite being much older.

Is it the rich men with trophy wives or being able to pay to get close to a lap dancer that gives some men the impression that they might actually have a chance with a teenager that they are approaching? A man followed my sister home a few months ago and said age is only a number. Fifty and 17 are very different numbers.

I would not consider myself a provocative dresser or particularly attractive. I do not wear low-cut tops or high heels in the daytime. I don’t dress typically, but tend to favour vintage dresses. I have curly red hair too, which I am told most do not favour, so judging by the amount of men that leer at me, a lot of girls must be in my situation or worse. When talking to friends about this, we all discussed our worst encounters and the commonalities were that we were walking alone and approached in cars or on quiet streets. A man followed my friend around a mile home and when she told him he looked around 50, he said: “Age is only a number, I want to take you out, yes?” I once rang a friend when she was on the way to my house and could hear a man riding along the pavement offering her a lift in the background.

Do these men honestly think a young woman would be interested in them? Can they not help themselves? Whatever happened to politeness and the decency not to startle a girl or woman alone minding her own business? Do these men really believe they are flattering women or complimenting them?

This all connects up with other issues, such as men in unmarked cars sitting outside clubs with the taxis and offering ‘free lifts’ or a boss who makes suggestive remarks about your body.

I worry about my sister, who told me: “If I don’t get commented or honked at on the way to school, I’ll feel really ugly that day.” Thinking back to encounters where men have reached out and fondled my hair or sat next to me on a bus full of available double seats, you can’t always be on guard and prevent these things. I have the right to be able to wear whatever I want and look however I please and not be shouted at or leered at by a man who happens to walk past. It’s abusive and scary. It should not be common behaviour.

Why Love Is Our Most Powerful, Lasting Form of Activism

By Courtney E. Martin

Who you love and how you love them is as much a statement about your social conscience as the letters you write to Congress or the votes you cast. It's harder to be good to someone else.

People who want to see the world bettered -- made more just and honest and kind -- often set their gaze on the farthest horizon. Our instinct, as progressives with global perspectives, is to obsess over situations far afield of our own backyards -- Indonesia, Sudan, the Middle East. These situations stir a sort of Peace Corp romance within us, a love affair with that which might make us feel gallant and extraordinary for caring.

I am as guilty as the next bleeding heart of focusing the majority of my energies on problems I see as compelling in large part because of their strangeness to me. But when I sit with myself, quiet my righteous indignation, my whiny white guilt, my attachment to the idea that I am a humble truth teller among powerful fibbers, I realize that it is not the world outside of me that is in most desperate need of my world-changing instincts. It is the world inside of me, the world between me and my beloved.

We are so often wide awake about the decisions our elected officials make in the political, public realm and so asleep about our private choices. Our relationships can be sites of radical transformation but are so often soporifics. They have the capacity to tilt the whole world in the direction of ingenuity and kindness, and yet we are so often looking outside of ourselves for the tipping point.

Who you love and how you love them is as much a statement about your social conscience -- perhaps even a far more accurate and moving statement -- as the letters you write to Congress or the votes you cast. It is harder to be good to someone else. It has the potential to make them be good to others. And others are the fulcrum of social change.

Some of the ways in which love can be radical are quite obvious and tied to institutions. The choice of whether or not to get married in a nation where the status (and its tax benefits) is still doled out discriminatorily is a powerful one.

Reflections on ritual, commitment and partnership are quite radical in a world that is pushing you to link your love to a market, spend conspicuously, be a celebrity-for-a-day no matter what the cost, call it quits half the time. Muting the cacophony of outside propaganda about love and weddings -- and listening to your own inner answer -- is incredibly difficult and also morally necessary. What promises do you want to make in what ways before whom?

And, of course, beyond the obvious is the most critical -- what kind of relationship do you want to be in? What sort of partnership will push you to be your best, freest, happiest self? It is not just a matter of reversing roles or reacting to those models you have seen before, but wiping the slate clean and then imagining the most humane and transcendent of possible unions. How good could your love be? How fortifying? How honest? How can you create a love that reflects your values instead of parroting the culture's bottom line-driven definitions?

If you think that love is finite, think again. Just as your dollar has ramifications well beyond the taste of the organic, locally-grown apple you buy, your devotion can influence whole generations. Look at Mildred Jeter and Richard Loving -- the interracial couple that pushed Loving vs. Virginia all the way to the Supreme Court -- striking down the last anti-miscegenation law on the books and ushering in a new era of legally-sanctioned love across racial boundaries. June will mark the 40th anniversary of their courage as the Loving Day campaign reminds us.

Think about Barack Obama, the product of a short-lived, early 60s college romance between a black African exchange student and a white Kansan. His interracial identity, as he so beautifully explains in his first book, is the roots from which his political ideals have grown. Fifty years after his parents fell in love, they are both gone but their creation is changing the way America understands itself.

Anyone who doubts that our most intimate relationship can also be the site of our most impactful activism need look no further than the second wave of feminism. A generation of women insisted that the personal was the political, that they would only be in relationship with those who respected their full humanity, and we -- their daughters and sons -- are engaged in far more fair partnerships as a result. (Though we have much more work to do if we are to fully realize their dream of equal parenting.)

And, of course, decades of queer men and women have bravely come out to their families and friends, colleagues and clergy, and in the process, redefined family. Their challenge of notions of normality have freed us all -- gay, straight, bisexual, weary of labels -- to be more honest about our own complex sexualities. Lives have been lost in this quest -- Brandon Teena, Harvey Milk, Matthew Shepard etc. -- but countless lives have also been saved.

bell hooks, the guru of love as revolution, wrote: "The moment we chose to love we begin to move towards freedom." I think she's wrong, but not by much.

It is not the moment we chose to love that we begin to move towards freedom, because love is so rarely a choice. Love is an instinct, an accident, an epiphany, a stomach ache. It can feel like incarceration and pardon, alienation and intimacy, tragedy and comedy. It so often grabs us by the collar and drags us in whatever direction it feels magnetized. We don't choose it. It harangues us.

It is the moment we critically and consciously choose how to shape our love that we move towards freedom. It is a critical response to our commercialized culture of romance, a rejection of that which feels outdated, a vision of a more inclusive, more authentic, more liberating relationship. In fact, the moment we choose to shape our love is the first, most critical step in shaping the whole God damn world.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Does Pakistan Have No Shame?

By Fatima Bhutto
Photo Anjum Naveed for AP

Is Pakistan trying to force rape victim Mukhtaran Mai to drop her case? Fatima Bhutto reports on a campaign of intimidation.

In 2002, an illiterate woman named Mukhtaran Mai was punished for something her brother did. He committed the unforgivable crime of falling in love with a young woman outside his tribe. So, in accordance with tribal tradition, a local council of elders decided that instead of punishing him directly, his sister Mai would be gang raped and paraded across her small village of Meerwala half naked.

Five days after this rape occurred, Mai did the unthinkable: She pressed charges.

Her defiance of custom—reporting the rape instead of silently accepting it—made headlines worldwide. Nicholas Kristof and Time magazine championed her case. Glamour magazine declared Mai “Woman of the Year.” But now, the Pakistan government has shown that it holds her in considerably lower esteem.

A few days ago, Mai announced that Pakistan has been quietly pressuring her to drop her case against the men who raped her. Qayyum Jatoi, the Federal Minister of State for Defense Production (ignore the silly title, we have 60-odd redundant ministers in our bloated cabinet) wants Mai to quit her six-year battle, now in the Supreme Court. According to Mai, the minister telephoned her uncle and warned him that should she persist, the ministry would ensure that the court rules against her. Minister Jatoi has denounced Mai’s allegations as a ploy by her to garner “cheap popularity” in the media. He denies pressuring Mai to drop the case, of course. The trial is scheduled to start today.

Given Pakistan’s recent history, I’d give Mai the benefit of the doubt. This is a government that has only grown more sinister when it comes to the cause of women. The Pakistan People’s Party, of which Minister Jatoi is a member, has twice put a female prime minister in office, Benazir Bhutto, and still has fully never repealed the anti-women Hudood Ordinances, which were reformed by President Pervez Musharraf but still allow women to be imprisoned for crimes like adultery and premarital sex.

Responding to the government’s pressure, Mai said in a statement to The News, one of Pakistan’s leading English newspapers, that it was ironic this injustice was being meted out to her by Benazir’s party. But it’s not so ironic. In fact, for the PPP, it’s par for the course.

Sardar Israullah Zehri, a tribal leader and senator from Balochistan and a member of the PPP, took to the floor of parliament this past August to defend violence against women. Five women in his province had been buried alive for staining their family’s honor. (Reports from various human-rights groups indicate the number of women buried may actually be as high as ten.) No one knows who the women were; we have snippets—a first name here, a date of birth there—but they’ve been murdered terribly well, erased from public record.

In parliament, a month after the women were buried alive, Zehri defended the killings as “part of our traditional customs.” Three months after his atrocious declaration, he was appointed the Federal Minister of Postal Services (see?) and made an adviser to the prime minister’s cabinet. When criticized for his statements, Zehri shrugged off his critics—five women died and the sky didn’t fall, the charming minister is reputed to have said.

Then, in November, the PPP and its president, Benazir Bhutto’s widower Asif Zardari, appointed Mir Hazar Khan Bijarani as Federal Minister of Education (a cabinet post with actual heft to it). Any Pakistani with a memory should have alarm bells ringing in his head at the mention of Bijarani’s name. In 2007, the chief justice of Pakistan ordered his arrest after he decreed that five girls be handed over, like currency, to the family of a murdered man to settle a feud between their two families. Bijarani was acting as head of a local tribal council similar to the one that had Mukhtaran Mai gang raped. The eldest of the girls was age six, and the youngest were only two years old.

But under this present government, not only is Bijarani is a free man (with an impressive government portfolio to boot), but the chief justice who ordered his arrest now finds himself unconstitutionally unemployed.

Today’s PPP bears absolutely no resemblance to the party that brought Pakistan’s first democratically elected government to power in 1971 and wrote our country’s constitution, yet it is feted across the West as an ally in the War on Terror. If Vice President Joseph Biden has his way, Pakistan will receive a whopping $7.5 billion in nonmilitary aid as part of the Biden-Lugar Act.

This for a country with an impressive vernacular for crimes against women. We have barely two words for “school” in Urdu: madrassa, and the bastardized eskool. But we have an entire language for the official ways in which you can victimize women. Swara, noun: the practice of settling disputes by giving away female children as compensation (see Bijarani); Karo Kari, noun: the murder of a male and female who have stained their respective families' honor; watta satta, the exchange of brides between one family and another; sang chatti, the forced marriage of women and girls to resolve tribal disputes. The vocabulary goes on and on.

Even longer is the list of men, politicians, and ministers who have been rewarded by the state of Pakistan for their misogyny. Mukhtaran Mai’s allegations have been quietly buried in the week since she openly accused the government of meddling in her rape case. As her case goes before the Supreme Court today, there’s little hope for a fair trial. The newspapers have been silent in Karachi, there are no protest rallies in Lahore, and there have been no repercussions against the state in Islamabad.

A few days ago, a friend of mine arrived at Karachi International Airport after a business trip abroad. As she waited in line to have her passport stamped at immigration, a man in his thirties turned to her and sneered, “How can you stand here in a line with all these men?” He called her shameless and said she should separate herself. But he underestimated her docility. She stood firmly in place and told him if her presence bothered him so much, he should ask the government to build a separate airport for women. I wouldn’t put it past them.

Personally, I’d prefer our own country.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Chris Brown and Rihanna: in case you haven't been following...

The Chris Brown controversy continues today as a flood of new reports attempt to shed light on what really went down between the R&B singer and girlfriend Rihanna early Sunday morning.

New reports detail the extent of Rihanna's injuries, allegedly inflicted by Brown. People magazine says the 20-year-old singer suffered a black eye and bruises at the hand of Chris, while a police source tells the magazine that the altercation left Rihanna with "a swollen, split lip and two red and purple contusions on either side of her forehead." E! online reported that Rihanna claimed to the LAPD that Chris choked her while threatening to kill her -- and she lost consciousness.

News outlets also suggest several different scenarios which may have sparked the heated argument. The NY Daily News reports that the "Umbrella" singer lost it when she found a text from another girl on Brown's phone -- citing a music industry source who revealed the details. The source claims that Rihanna attempted to leave the car after the blow-up, and Chris grabbed her to stop her from going. OK! magazine takes that theory one step further, suggesting that heiress Paris Hilton and Brown were flirty, which sparked the fight.

As speculation continues to surround the pre-Grammy incident, reports of canceled concerts and withdrawn radio plays circulate on the net. Rihanna has canceled a second concert which had been scheduled for Thursday in Indonesia, while Brown's songs continue to be pulled from airwaves due to the public outcry against him. The latest radio station to pull his tunes is B103.9 in South Florida. "We asked listeners what they thought," radio host Big Mama dished to NBC 2 News. "They want Chris Brown off the radio."

Today, "Extra" spoke exclusively with Brown's sister, Lytrell Bundy (aka Tootie) about the alleged attack. "He's always been a good boy -- never violent," Tootie says. When asked about how Chris is dealing with his arrest and the fallout, Tootie confesses, "He's doing good. He's coping... He's doing as... as to be expected."

Both Rihanna and Brown have stayed out of the public eye since the alleged altercation -- even foregoing the Grammy Awards, where both were scheduled to perform. Rihanna is said to be flying to Barbados to be with her family, while Brown -- rumored to be in Las Vegas -- is expected to lay low until his March 5 court date.