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Saturday, July 5, 2014

Who's afraid of Atima Omara?

Atima Omara, Candidate for Virginia House of Delegates

On June 27, Bob Brink, who has served the folks of Arlington in the Virginia House of Delegates for 17 years, announced his retirement after being offered a position in Gov. McAuliffe's administration.

Brink's retirement launched a crowded field for the Democratic primary being decided tomorrow on July 6th, among them Atima Omara, who has generated enormous support since she announced her candidacy, just this past Tuesday.

But not everyone is enthusiastic. Popular local Democratic blog Blue Virginia expressed thinly-veiled pettiness toward Omara based on rumors they heard:

"Atima Omara gets an "A-" for her answers, which are solid across the board. My main concerns about Omara have nothing to do with her answers to the questionnaire, but with people have been telling me over the past few days (I didn't know anything about Omara before this race and had absolutely no preconceived notions), such as that she's "not a hard worker" and that she has "no substance." Is any of that true? Got me, but I keep hearing it from Arlington Democrats who know her well, so I'm not sure what to believe at this point. Also, she ran into a buzzsaw of criticism yesterday after her campaign claimed an endorsement from NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia, which that organization quickly made clear they did NOT make. So, while she gets an "A-" for her answers to my questionnaire, there are many questions in my mind about her candidacy." 

Of course, to those of us in the DC metro area who know Omara--and there are many, she has a vast network--this is a strange, ridiculous assertion.

She doesn't work hard enough? No substance?

Last year, Omara became the first black woman elected President of the Young Democrats of America and only the fifth woman in its 81-year history.

She's a board member at Planned Parenthood Metro Washington, DC Abortion Fund, and Emerge Virginia. Previously, she served on the board of the Virginia Chapter of the National Organization for Women and the Arlington Country Commission on the Status of Women.

She's been an organizer on behalf of health care worker unions at SEIU, an advocate for the mentally-ill and disabled with the National Disability Rights Network, and worked passionately for women's advocacy through the Women's Campaign Fund and Doorways for Women and Families.

Her direct campaign experience is just as impressive: eight elections on the federal, state, and local levels and prior to that, a Special Assistant to then-Gov. Mark Warner.

And her extensive resume hasn't gone unnoticed: in the past year, she's been honored by the Women's Information Network with a "Young Women of Achievement Award in Leadership" and was named to Ebony Magazine's "Power 100" and Jet Magazine's "40 under 40".

Did I mention she's a child of African immigrants? Or that she graduated from the University of Virginia and subsequently earned an MPA from George Mason?

This doesn't strike me as someone who doesn't "work hard" or "lacks substance", and had Blue Virginia taken five minutes to Google her name, they would have found such rumors without merit.

This all makes me wonder what's intended here by Blue Virginia. For candidate Paul Holland, one of the "top scorers" in their rubric, they wrote simply: "gets an "A" for his answers, which are excellent across the board. Nice job -- Holland is definitely one of the top choices for Democrats going to the caucus Sunday to consider voting for, either #1 or #2!"

Despite the slander, Omara is apparently choosing to stay above the fray, campaigning hard in the final 36-hour stretch before the polls close and declining to validate ridiculous rumors.

But I am not above the fray, and I can confidently say this: had Omara been a white male with her dazzling resume, she would have been declared the frontrunner on the day she announced.

There would be no third-hand hearsay claiming she doesn't work hard or lacks substance. There would be no targeting of a woman widely praised for her advocacy on reproductive rights because her campaign mistakenly announced an endorsement from NARAL, even though she already has the enthusiastic backing of Planned Parenthood Metro Washington and Virginia NOW.

And given that Blue Virginia's assessment is already making the rounds, I find it horribly irresponsible for this blog--one that's supposedly progressive--to peddle lies about a candidate that's been heartily endorsed by Mayor of Alexandria Bill Euille, Arlington School Board Chair James Lander, and a large contigent of other local Democratic leaders.

But for any dedicated observer, it's clear to see this is the challenge of black women running for office, even in reliably progressive campaigns: an uphill battle to earn credibility and respect, often despite qualifications that put them head and shoulders above other candidates, as in Omara's case.

Voters will make their choice at Yorktown High School tomorrow, from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Men Are 32x More Likely to Be Killed By Lightning than Falsely Accused of Rape


In a variety of ways, it's been said to me for as long as I can remember:

"Be careful about what girls you sleep with. They might accuse you of raping them."

"Did you hear about that chick accusing so-and-so of raping her? What a cunt."

"Don't stick your dick in crazy."

It starts early, and there is little-to-no counterpoint. You can draw a straight line between pulling girls' pigtails in grade school to assaulting or raping them in later years. By the time college rolls around, young men have been handed a societal philosophy of entitlement: women are there for your pleasure, regardless of her consent. Especially if she's "asking for it" i.e. clothes, flirting, drinking, walking alone at night (breathing?). Especially if you feel threatened by her on any level.

This way of thinking is so pervasive that women have been framed as "cold" or "bitches" if they even so much as fail to smile at men who express interest in them. Lonely men populate the online world lamenting how "women hate nice guys and only like assholes" and about "getting friendzoned" and why-oh-why won't this woman sleep with me, I am SUCH a nice guy.

We live in a culture that treats women like products to be bought and sold, and when those "objects" suddenly assert their right to human value, many (if not most) men feel threatened.

This is no more evident than in the false rape accusation hysteria. It is communicated to boys and men, time after time, that women will accuse them of rape at the drop of a hat. False rape accusations are pushed forward as a common and random act of craziness that any nice boy will find themselves in because those feminazis have made the world so damn hard for men.

Women who have the courage to come forward about their rapes are regularly shamed and ostracized, and the attacker is defended, even by women who refuse to believe that a "nice guy" would do such a thing.

Recently, Occidental College--who has been the legitimate focus of criticism by activists on campus sexual violence--created an online reporting system for victims of rape and sexual assault. MRAs, or "Men's Rights Activists (perhaps more accurately known as insecure, woman-hating assholes) led a campaign that flooded the online reporting system with over 400 false reports in the span of a week.

In the past week, "A Voice for Men" founder Paul Elam, ever empathetic and reasonable, is leading his own campaign to attack Karen Smith--the Executive Director of the Sexual Assault Centre of Edmonton--by having his followers "falsely accuse" her of rape.

Her crime? She had the audacity to lead a successful movement in Edmonton called "Don't Be That Guy" that resulted in a drop of rapes and sexual assaults in the area.

I have to admit that in my early adulthood, this was a concern in the back of my mind. I had managed to learn about enthusiastic consent, and I felt I was respectful toward women, but deep down, I was worried that I would become a target of false accusations.

But here's the thing: if you look at the statistics, "false rape" is something that should rarely--if ever--cross the mind of any man.

The FBI's last statement on "unfounded" rape accusations put them at 8 percent of all reports. And that's being generous because those defined as "unfounded" are labeled so for a variety of reasons: if the victim didn't fight back, if the attacker didn't use a weapon, if the victim did not sustain injuries, or if the victim had a prior relationship with their attacker.

NONE of those should ever be used to dismiss rape; they are not indicative of consent, let alone enthusiastic consent.

So, that 8 percent is a generous figure to false rape propagandists.

But now we go deeper. The Department of Justice annually compiles a report called the National Crime Victimization Survey and estimated in 2012 that a mere 28 percent of rapes are reported.

So, of all rapes, reported or unreported, we see that generous estimate of false rape accusations drop to 2.2 percent.

Think about that. If you hear of a woman who has reported a rape, and you suspect she's lying, there's, at the very best, an 8 percent chance you're right. At worst, even giving that FBI figure the benefit of the doubt despite its incredibly flawed system of disregarding consent, you have only a 2.2 percent chance of being correct.

Next time you're ready to throw out some bullshit assertion that a woman is lying about being raped, ask yourself if you're ready for those odds. Is it worth the speculation of ruining a victim's reputation based on no evidence because you couldn't do the necessary critical thinking?

But now, let's go deeper. Studies compiled by the Kinsey Institute estimate that 18-29 year-olds have some form of sexual activity with another person (or people) "an average of 112 times a year, 30-39 year-olds an average of 86 times per year, and 40-49 year-olds an average of 69 times per year."

Because false rape accusation hysteria is especially prevalent among young adults, let's apply these numbers to the 15-39 demographic, which engages in interpersonal sexual activity an average of 99 times a year (with the assumption this data can be extrapolated for 15-18 year-olds):

There are 103 million Americans in this age range. If the average number of annual interpersonal sex acts for each American is 99 and men ostensibly make up at least half of every instance of sexual intercourse, that comes out to 5.1 billion instances of some form of interpersonal sexual activity for 15-39 year-old men in the United States.

The FBI estimated there were 84,376 forcible rapes reported in 2012. If 8 percent of those rapes are false, that would come out to 6,750 cases in which the victim was lying about her or his assault.

Remember that even 6,750 is being generous because of the FBI's flimsy 1996 definition of "unfounded" rape accusations.

Even so, that would mean that the odds of any sexually-active male between the ages of 15 and 39 has a 750,000 to 1 chance of being falsely accused of rape.

Here's another way to look at it. The National Institute of Justice estimates that men have a 1 in 33 chance of being raped or sexually assaulted in their lifetime.

In other words, men are 27,500x more likely to be raped than falsely accused of rape.

Did you read that? MRAs should be far more concerned with addressing rape culture itself as an issue, but that would leave little room to bash feminists, right?

Just for fun, here are other things more likely to happen to you than being falsely accused of rape, as provided by the National Safety Council:

- Death by lightning (1 in 84,079)
- Killed by a dog (1 in 120,864)
- Killed by fireworks (1 in 386,766)

You could be killed by lightning 9 times before being on par statistically with being falsely accused of rape.

But it's not all doom and gloom. You're also more likely to win $10,000 in the Powerball lottery (1 in 648,975.96)  before being falsely accused of rape.

Let me know how that works out for you.

And again, this is all based on that inflated 8 percent.

If we go with the more accurate 2.2 percent, we're looking at a 2.7 million to 1 chance of being falsely accused of rape.

In case you're wondering, that's approximately 32 deaths by lightning strike.

ALL of this is if we assume all risk of false rape accusations on straight men. If we were to add nuance on gender or sexuality, these odds would only increase.

And here's the kicker: because only 14.2% of reported rapes lead to a conviction, even those few who are falsely accused can rely on our justice system to have their back.

So, now that we've established false rape is wildly overblown and statistically unworthy of concern on the part of any given male, let's look at some stats that DO matter:

1 in 4 women will survive a rape or attempted rape in her lifetime.

95.2% of victims of rape are women (NCVS).

And yet, this entire statistical exercise does not include considering how male privilege shapes our view of women who come forward about their trauma.

Here's hoping these numbers will help them get the justice they deserve.

Friday, December 27, 2013

I'm an angry feminist? How are you NOT an angry feminist?


From time to time, someone will ask me why I get so angry and/or passionate about women's rights, or they attempt to glean insight on the ulterior motive they assume I *must* have if I'm a man who speaks forcefully on feminist issues.

It's as simple as this... I imagine a world in which everything is reversed: men have never served as president or vice president, they only make up 20% of the Senate, only 18% of the House, only 4% of Fortune 500 CEOs, are barred from ordination in major religions that influence our politics, are objectified and commercialized like products, are 19x more likely to be raped or sexually-assaulted, are the victims of some form of sexual harassment on a daily basis, and are consistently and subconsciously informed that they exist as an extension of male entitlement.

I think of other things... like what if men had laws regulating their discharge of semen (potential human life)? Or if men were constantly told they were weaker and less intelligent? Or if men were culturally pressured to choose between being professionally successful and being a "good father"? Or told that they aren't good leaders? Or if they were targeted as "lying" or "slutty" if they came forward about being raped?

Or if every aspect of my sexuality was scrutinized because I lack the "right" parts?

And this only covers a fraction of what crosses my mind when I try to imagine what it would be like if the situation were reversed, if it were *my* rights and quality of life being directly and pervasively affected because of my gender.

You shouldn't be asking me why I'm angry; you should be asking yourself why you are NOT angry.

Friday, December 20, 2013

An Open Letter to "Duck Dynasty" and Supporters

Dear Duck Dynasty and Supporters (Sarah Palin, Bobby Jindal, etc.),

Today, two members of the all-woman band "Pussy Riot" are being freed from prison after serving over a year because they had the audacity to peacefully protest the Russian government and its oppressive policies.

That would never happen in this country. What we call--and you yell--"Freedom of Speech" is meant to protect the right of any citizen to say whatever they wish (within reason of public safety) without repercussions from the government.

Though it's certainly a heated debate, the spirit of freedom of speech is in protecting the opinion of the minority on an issue--whether that be a minority of background or population or power. It's meant to give everyone the chance to voice their opinion.

And although your opinion on homosexuality is now in the minority in this country, your privilege as straight folks to say things that perpetuate dangerous myths and hatred has helped keep in place laws that treat those in the LGBT community as second class citizens.

The First Amendment ONLY guarantees the government can't oppress you for your opinions, it does not dictate to private entities what they can and cannot do in regards to the words that come out of your mouth.

So, when you say stupid shit like "I never, with my eyes, saw the mistreatment of any black person. Not once." or "whether they're homosexuals, drunks, terrorists. We let God sort 'em out later, you see what I'm saying?" or literally compare non-Christians to Nazis, a private company like A&E has every right to can your ass, regardless of who does and does not agree with them.

Further, I've noticed a strange absence of that much-heralded "let the free market do its job" commentary that was so prevalent when folks were boycotting Chick-fil-A for their anti-gay bigotry. Now, that A&E has literally made a decision in response to the market, you're crying foul. What happened to capitalism being a driving force for social equality?

You absolutely have freedom of speech, but you do not have the right to a guaranteed audience or freedom from criticism or freedom from private sector consequences.

So, please take your duck whistles and complaints to the nearest Chick-fil-A and let the rest of us celebrate the triumph of the human spirit and actual bravery in free speech with those women from Pussy Riot.


Monday, December 2, 2013

5 Christmas Tips for My Fellow Christians

As Christmas approaches, I'd like to remind my fellow Christians who need the reminder:

1. Stop suffocating in your unique, literal interpretation of Scripture. Embrace nuance. Realize that precisely because folks vary even among those in your own denomination is exactly why we should mind our own fucking business when it comes to our faith.

2. There is absolutely a "War on Christmas", but it has nothing to do with friendly folks saying "Happy Holidays" or celebrating their own faith that doesn't subscribe to Christ; it has to do with Christians themselves morphing what is meant to be a celebration of Christ's life into a product-happy, merchandising orgy on who can accumulate the most of what is told to us we should be accumulating.

3. There's nothing with buying gifts, of course, but let's not call it a day after we do that. Why not use the spiritual opportunity and vacation time to help others? I'm not saying you need to run a soup kitchen (although that would be great), but I am saying that Christ, after laughing at the thought of our "Christmas", would probably recommend selling all your gifts and using that cash to feed and clothe the poor (you know, because that's literally what he said). And I'm not saying do that either, but at least make an effort.

4. If "bringing nonbelievers into the fold" is your primary concern in all this, do it by demonstrating love in your actions without so much as mentioning "Christ".

5. And for the love of all that is good, stop leaving asshole statements on restaurant receipts and/or your "Christian" business card that claims salvation is worth all the money in the world. If it were, you wouldn't have just paid to eat there, right?

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Ma'am, Miss, Lady... what do I say?

Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA)
A few years ago, a minor social misunderstanding occurred when Sen. Barbara Boxer was questioning then-BG Michael Walsh during Congressional testimony, and he began his answer with "Ma'am..."

Sen. Boxer politely interjected and said, "Do me a favor... could you say 'senator' instead of 'ma'am'? It's just a thing, I worked so hard to get that title, so I'd appreciate it, yes, thank you."

At the time, I was a young enlisted soldier, and I didn't see video of the exchange. I read about it in the newspaper the next day, and it was portrayed--even if slyly--as her being defensive and revealing a "crazy feminist insecurity" when talking to a man in uniform. This was years before my feminist education, and I was certainly annoyed at the time.

In my privileged brain, I thought, "Well, geez, if I call a woman in power "ma'am", is she going to be upset? There's no winning here!"

The reality, as you can see in the video, was that she doesn't sound defensive, maybe a bit annoyed at the situation but not defensive. Her tone verges for a split-second on pleading. She gives reasoning for it. She even seems to feel embarrassed by making the request in "It's just a thing..." as in "Gosh, I know this is silly, but could you please afford me what I've earned."

Looking back on the exchange, almost five years later, I'm angry at myself and other men (and women) who criticized Boxer because, as it was revealed, Gen. Walsh had actually referred to the men on the panel with "senator" far more than "sir" whereas with her, it was only "ma'am".

I'm not going to speculate on Gen. Walsh's intentions because there's a very good chance it wasn't consciously intentional on his part.

What's clear, however, is that 1) Sen. Boxer was being addressed differently from her male colleagues and 2) even if she wasn't being addressed differently, why would it matter? Her request was given politely and was quite reasonable, not to mention it was made of someone from a culture where the addressing of title is EVERYTHING.

The blow back against Sen. Boxer was yet another instance of revealing how angry men can get when they feel they're being called out on their sexism. I have no idea how Gen. Walsh felt about the exchange, but the reaction from men across the media, and many of Sen. Boxer's male colleagues in the Senate, was ridiculous.

This wasn't about her exchange, which was clearly benign; this was about these men--including myself--being confronted with the idea that our words DO matter when we talk to women, who historically (and even now) are primarily in a state of cultural oppression.

The thought running in our brains was: "Wait, we can't say ma'am? Have I been wrong this entire time? Shit! Well, fuck her. I'm not apologizing because that's how I was taught."

And yet, few men assessing the situation from that point-of-view took the time to imagine what it must feel like for many women to be addressed with "ma'am"; the title isn't necessarily wrong, it's the feelings provoked from it by a lifetime of being considered inferior to men.

We call these micro-aggressions; they're little bits of speech or actions that subconsciously (and often outright) place women (and other oppressed groups) in a lower station, even if they're being said to a man.

This can range from the seemingly benign ( Ma'am) to the more severe ("You throw like a girl!") to the blatant ("Dude, stop acting like a pussy").

They can also be manifested in grouping together men and women with a reference that is traditionally male. Recently, a friend of mine pointed out that I call groups of mix-gendered people "guys". Is that meant to be offensive? Of course not, it's just habit.

But the implication is that most respectful form of address for a group of men and women is to use a term that is designated almost always for men and not because it's a nod of approval for the women in the group but because going with "gals" would be insulting to men in the group.

Men are not referred to as women unless it's an insult, and even in the rare instance when a man is seemingly complimented ("Wow, you can sew? Your mother taught you so well!"), it's a slap in the face to women, a further emphasis on gender roles that relegate them to second-place status.

Not too long ago, I sampled a small group of women (re: friends) on whether they prefer "miss" or "ma'am". Some didn't care, some definitely cared; of the ones do who did care, it was rather split on which of these was more condescending.

And that made me realize: has there ever been a term for women that is not condescending? Taking a quick scan of our culture, I know for a fact I've heard every salutation used pejoratively many times when women are addressed, even if they took no notice.

My title has a question, and I sadly do not have an answer. This is just food for thought. I want unaware men (and some women) to realize that the experience of women with these terms has not been fun. Maybe they *do* feel insulted.

A few months ago, I ran into this problem for the first time (or at least, the first time it was verbalized).

A woman who was probably having a bad day (and we all have them) remarked to me: "Please don't call me Ma'am."

She was clearly irritated, maybe hurt. A few years ago, I would have been annoyed by her response, but now, I knew exactly what to say:

"I'm so sorry. I meant that as a term of genuine respect, but I know it's often not expressed that way. I still want to accord you the respect you deserve; is there a term that's okay with you?"

There wasn't. But her demeanor immediately changed. She seemed almost apologetic (and she had no reason to be).

There is no perfect solution to this, but that day, we both walked away feeling better about that exchange.

Gloria Steinem once said, "The first problem for all of us, men and women, is not to learn but to unlearn."

My "unlearning" has been rigorous, but it's paid off. I still have a long way to go, but the fact that it's helped me treat women as equally as I treat men is more than worth it.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Emily Yoffe Joins "Don't Drink and Vagina" Campaign

Emily Yoffe, best known for her "Dear Prudence" advice column at Slate, has become the latest kneejerk cultural commentator to lay the blame for sexual violence on college campuses at the feet of victims, despite her insistence that's not what she's doing.
"Let's be totally clear: Perpetrators are the ones responsible for committing their crimes, and they should be brought to justice. But we are failing to let women know that when they render themselves defenseless, terrible things can be done to them."
Yoffe wants every young college woman to know that while they aren't responsible for their rape, they should feel guilty for allowing it to happen in an easier fashion by drinking.

And though I'm certain Yoffe would adamantly deny she intends to make women who have been raped feel guilty if alcohol was involved, that's exactly what's she doing.

She has joined what I like to call the national "Don't Drink and Vagina" campaign, composed of persons in authority (or whom attempt to speak with authority) who seriously believe the answer to stopping rape and other sexual violence against women is by encouraging women to alter their behavior. Unlike its inspiration, the successful "Don't Drink and Drive" movement, "Don't Drink and Vagina" is condescending and uninformed advice vomit that has little to no basis in critical thinking.

Proponents of the DDAV approach share two common traits: 1) they are woefully inadequate in their research on rape culture and 2) they want an easy solution that shirks as much responsibility as possible on the part of those in authority or anyone who could help in combating rape culture (that would be everyone). 

First, let's get a few things straight: 2/3 of rapes are committed by someone the victim knows. That jumps to 3/4 when discussing sexual assault. Further, depending on which study you're reading, between 40 and 50 percent of rapes annually occur in the victim's residence.

Generously assuming both those factors completely overlap, this would mean Yoffe's "don't get drunk, don't get raped" approach would include the 66% of victims who are supposed to feel safe enough to drink in front of someone they trust, most of those whom they trust in their home.

And yet, although Yoffe acknowledges that men who commit rape and sexual are often drunk, as well (and which Ann Friedman satirically wrote about in response to Yoffe), the bulk of her criticism is directed at women, except for this wonderful little gem:
"If I had a son, I would tell him that it's in his self-interest not to be the drunken frat boy who finds himself accused of raping a drunken classmate. Surely this University of Richmond student, acquitted in one of the extremely rare cases in which a campus rape accusation led to a criminal trial, would confirm that."
Finds himself accused? It makes it sound as though college male rapists just happen across rape as surprisingly as one might get a jury duty notice in the mail.

It makes it sound as though these rapists weren't aware that what they were doing was wrong when they did it.

It makes it sound as though they are not ultimately guilty, and let's blame alcohol because that's a hell of a lot easier than admitting personal complicity in a culture that steadfastly refuses to acknowledge how our objectification of women and lack of educating young people about rape and consent makes it easier for women to be raped, sexually assaulted, and sexually harassed.

But here's what really pisses me off: that "it's not in his self-interest" because as we all know, any article on rape should point out how badly a man accused of rape could be damaged rather than... oh, I don't know... maybe emphasizing that respecting personal boundaries of women and acknowledging enthusiastic consent before proceeding should be key here?

I really don't know what to make of Yoffe's article in terms of motivation. It's written so brazenly that I can't help but think she felt it would be perceived as a "brave" piece, a woman writing an article on rape that points out how women are responsible for their rapes.

But it's not brave; it's poorly researched and only encourages this cowardice on the part of our society to take a hard look in the mirror and accept responsibility for not stopping rape at the source: rapists.

If a woman gets drunk, loses her purse/wallet, throws up all over herself, passes out on the sidewalk, generally acts like a moron (and many of us have had those nights)... she can deal with the fallout from that in the morning. That's on her. That STILL does not mean her drinking gets pinpointed as the solution to preventing rape.

What is too drunk? Should women stop drinking altogether? Should we have a blood alcohol limit which women can't exceed? What do we do about the woman the rapist moves onto who does get drunk? Most importantly: why do we continue to address rape victims but not rapists?

Rape and sexual assault are the only violent crimes in which we immediately propose what the victim could have done to prevent them, despite the overwhelming statistics that show there is truly little control over when and where and how a woman gets raped.

If Yoffe wants plaudits for social commentary, maybe she would do well to address that.