What’s Sex Got To Do With… Identity? (Final Reflection)

Throughout the course of the semester, we have learned about and discussed a wide variety of sexual orientations and how western culture has normalized a sex and gender binary. We traversed through the LGBTQI alphabet soup, learning how each identity has to navigate through society and the common dangers they face by merely existing as an unconventional body. Homosexual bodies, particularly gay men, are learned to be feared from a young age through the existence of the “fag discourse” perpetuated in schools. Bisexual individuals are also often viewed as predatory and dangerous because of their refusal to cooperate within the straight/gay binary that society has constructed. Further complicating sexual binaries are transgender individuals, whose by definition identify as a gender different to the one they were assigned at birth. Intersex individuals, who were born with ambiguous genitalia, can fit into any one of these categories, or none at all. Completely removed from the sexuality spectrum in which all of these other identities exist is asexuality, which can be defined as a lack of sexual drive. Since around the 1960’s, when sexuality shifted from a behavior to an identity, heteronormative attitudes have emerged and worked to confirm heterosexuality as the “correct” form of sexual identity while marginalizing all others.

One of the preoccupations with a heteronormative society is to scrutinize the identities of non-hetero people. A clear example of this can be seen among the bisexual population, where the straight (and sometimes gay) populations discredit the “bisexual” identity. Some claim that bisexuals are just “gays in denial” or straight, but “going through a case.” For some, that may be the case. For others, not at all. The bottom line is that it really should not matter what someone identifies as. Everyone has their own definition of their own orientation, and it is ignorant and presumptuous to simply say that one’s identity is “incorrect.”

One identity that has come under considerable scrutiny for lacking a clear definition is asexuality. In the documentary (A)Sexual, we are introduced to a number of people who identify as asexual, but very few of them conduct their romantic and sexual activities in the exact same way. Some maintain a long term romantic partnership devoid of sexual interaction. Some acknowledge that they do engage in some sexual behaviors, but prefer to do so without the presence of a partner. Because asexuality itself seems to be a spectrum, people are very hesitant to accept someone’s identity as an asexual body because it differs from their own prototype of an asexual in their mind.

One of the most important and lasting lessons I have learned this semester is that people will attack and scrutinize the legitimacy of a sexual identity far more than any other personal identifier. Because heteronormative constructions have deemed “straightness” the norm and every other identity as degenerate and ultimately “abnormal”. This dichotomy has allowed those who identify as “straight” to incorrectly assume privilege and marginalize others. The only person who can declare someone’s sexual identity is that individual. We must end our preoccupation with accusing others of having “false” identities if we truly want a just world.

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What’s Sex Got To Do With… Lego’s?

Dear Lego Company,

My name is Charlotte and I am 7 years old and I love Legos but I don’t like that there are more Lego boy people and barely any Lego girls. Today, I went to a store and saw Legos in two sections. The pink girls and the blue boys. All the girls did was sit at home, go to the beach and shop. They had jobs but the boys went on adventures, worked, saved people and had jobs, even swam with sharks. I want you to make more Lego girl people and let them go on adventures and have fun. OK!??

Thank you.

From Charlotte

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What’s Sex Got To Do With… Video Games?

For years, video games, particularly fantasy games, have been a “boy’s club” of sorts that operates in an environment where many women feel unwelcome to join. If any women at all exists as characters in these games, they are either presented as a “damsel in distress” that needs rescuing, or as a hyper sexualized commodity, or both. While male characters in these games get to wear full sets of body armor, warm underclothes, and well, clothing that seems relatively plausible in the context of the game, female characters are too often portrayed as having an incredibly small waist, disproportionate breasts, and, as Stephen Colbert puts it “armor that barely covers their nipples.” Needless to say, women who would otherwise play these games are feeling shut out and some are starting to raise their voices against this obvious sexism.

Enter Anita Sarkeesian.

Lauded as a hero to many female gamers who so often feel silenced in the male dominated sphere of internet gaming, Sarkeesian, founder of “Feminist Frequency” has received a never ending stream of rape and death threats since starting her crusade. If you are feeling brave, take a look at some of the posts on reddit.com defending the “rights” of some men to blatantly sexualize women in some gaming universes. Sarkeesian’s actions and the backlash that has been created from it is clearly a manifestation of rape culture. Internet users, who are often protected by anonymity, degrade and threaten assault to women who are pointing out the sheer grossness of their social sphere. There is a currently trending quote that has been circulating online recently that I think can be applied to what is happening in the video game world.

“Woman speaks out against misogynistic abuse and is met with misogynistic abuse from men who believe misogynistic abuse doesn’t exist ant that she should stop making them look bad.”

Is CASA Really All That?

The Campus Accountability and Safety Act, commonly known as CASA is a bill presented in congress that aims to accomplish a number of things. Specifically, according to the preamble of the bill, the purpose of CASA is “to amend the Higher Education Act of 1965 and the Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act to combat campus sexual violence, and for other purposes. This incredibly vague inclusion to the purpose of the bill has come under scrutiny and raises the question of what the true motives of the bill actually are.

The bill starts by amending the Clery Act of 1965 to require colleges to report a number of sexual assault statistics on their website. Also included in this section is a survey that colleges and universities are supposed to give to their student body to more accurately gauge how sexual assaults are happening on campus. The next section of the bill is titled “Coordination with Local Law Enforcement” It goes into detail about a variety of penalties and fines that will be handed out by the Department of Education if schools are found to not be in compliance with CASA. It also details the role that the Secretary of Education has in determining the validity of the infractions. The next section of the bill outlines what systems and programs colleges and universities have to implement for survivors of sexual assault. It goes into detail about the roles of “responsible employees” and what legal options survivors have available to them.

There are a number of clauses and lines within the CASA bill that do not help and may even hurt the war against campus sexual assault. Starting with the very first page, the preamble of the Bill gets kind of shady in its intentions by the inclusion of “and for other purposes.” Considering that this Bill is an amendment for another campus sexual assault legislative piece, I find it hard to believe that this Bill would have many other purposes. If it did, as a voting citizen, I would like for them to be outlined more explicitly for me. In fact, I think a greater level of transparency in all parts of the Bill would be a massive step up from the vague policies and language used in the Bill as it stands now.

For example, in Section 2 the amendment requires that colleges and universities include sexual assault statistics “on the website of the institution”. Not only does it not specify where on a website these statistics have to be (i.e. how easy they are to find), but the statistics that institutions are required to show are not very thorough. For example, there is no requirement for a statistic that shows what percentage of cases had repeat perpetrators. Another issue I found within Section 2 of CASA is the outdated and inconsistent language that is present in the bill. This bill is making amendments to a law passed in 1965 and uses definitions from a separate Act passed in 1994. Especially since the rise of the internet and social media, definitions of sexual violence, dating violence, stalking, consent, rape, and coercion have been rapidly changing. It is not productive to reference definitions from essentially three different generations in a bill that requires solid definitions.

In Section 3 of CASA, a number of penalties and fines are described for institutions that do not adhere to the new Bill. One noticeable flaw within the logic of this section is the power given to the Secretary of Education. While I personally do not know much about our current leadership in the Department of Education, it appears that they could potentially waive the penalties for favored institutions, even if a conflict of interest may be present. Section 4 of CASA attempts to provide ways a number of avenues for students to report their assaults. However, the confusing terminology and the fact that “the confidential advisor shall inform the victim of the victim’s control over possible next steps regarding the victim’s reporting options” may do more harm than good. As we all most likely saw in the Rolling Stone article, presenting a survivor with an overwhelming amount of options without any real guidance does not really do anything for the survivor.

How do you think CASA should be changed? Do you think Congress has the right ideas with this bill?

How to Portray Rape on Television

Rape is a crime that has become increasingly prevalent on TV shows. There’s even an entire show dedicated to it’s litigation, Law and Order: SVU. While it is not inherently bad for such crimes to be used in television, it is important that a character’s rape be an important moment in their history. For the victims of sexual violence in SVU, their stories very rarely last more than 45 minutes. One tragic story is substituted for the next creating a seemingly endless conveyor belt of sex crime after sex crime. I would argue that viewers almost become desensitized to the crimes, after potentially watching all sixteen seasons of the show. I believe Law and Order: SVU is a poor representation of portraying rape on screen. There is one show, however, that uses a horrific gang rape to permanently change the characterization of one of its lead characters. That show is Sons of Anarchy. Continue reading

Racial Hierarchies in Transnational Sexualities

Women who identify as members of a diaspora culture in lieu of a member of the host nation are subjects of discriminatory treatment based on race. Racial hierarchies and hierarchies surrounding the idea of virginity are constructed to control these women through their sexualities. In a few cases, immigrating has provided these women a heightened state of sexual subjectivity and freedom. For the majority, however, moving to a new area (especially for labor purposes) makes these women subject to sexual harassment and violence. Some diaspora bodies, particularly Filipina and Latina women, are historically viewed as more desirable than others, which in turn causes them to be more regulated than bodies of different racial and ethnic backgrounds.

Filipina live-in maids are viewed in a different sexual lens than their Ethiopian and Sri Lankan counterparts in Lebanon. According to Cynthia, a Lebanese madame interviewed by Hayeon Lee, “There are people who prefer a white girl… and the children aren’t afraid of them.” By “white girl,” Cynthia is referring to a Filipina woman. By equating the Filipina ethnicity to “whiteness”, these bodies are thrust upon a pedestal and are therefore more desired than many other races of women in Lebanon. In Lee’s article, a Lebanese employer known as Muhammad confirms this by saying, “In Lebanon, they say they [Filipinas] are [sexually] easy.”

The idea that Filipina women are “easy” allows the Lebanese madames and employers enforce strict rules to ensure that these bodies are controlled, thus minimizing the sexual subjectivity of these women. Lee’s article talks about how the majority of Filipina live-in maids are refused the right to go out on their days off. Madames and employers claim that this is for the safety and protection of the maid, and by extension, the entire household. They assert that they know about the tendencies of Lebanese men, and fear that, if they let their Filipina live-in maids go out on their own, they will eventually return pregnant or with an STI. This assumption is not only unfair to the Filipina employees, but it promotes stereotypes that these women are hypersexualized beings that would only desire leaving their home for the thrill of sexual promiscuity.

Hispanic women in the United States also face extremely increased risks of sexual assault. The documentary “Rape in the Fields” explains that their superiors are sexually assaulting an unprecedented number of female migrant workers. These women feel as though they are unable to report their rapes for a number of reasons. One of these reasons is due to their fear of deportation. A majority of these women are undocumented workers. If they make their presence known to American authorities, they run the risk of being sent away. A far more immediate reason almost all of these women stay silent about their rapes is that their rapists threaten to kill them if they report. Their assaulters most likely know about their illegal status and can surmise that they are likely alone in the country, and use that power to their advantage.

What is so troubling about the “Rape in the Fields” documentary is that, in my opinion, sever human rights violations are being committed, yet justice is almost never served do to the low status of these women in the United States. As members of a diaspora culture, Hispanic women have no support system to turn to in the all too likely event of sexual assault. The fact that these women are scared into silence is creating a completely counterproductive culture and further alienating them as second-class people in this country.

Ethnicity and racial hierarchy play an important role in determining the sexual subjectivity of women identifying with a diaspora culture. Because Filipina women are viewed as the “white” alternative to some other ethnic communities within Lebanon, they are often characterized both as the “best” type of live-in maid, yet also the most sexually promiscuous (and thus, a liability). The label of a liability allows Lebanese employers to enforce harsh restrictions on the activities of their Filipina maids, which in turn lessens the prospects of mobility within their communities. In a similar manner, the sexual subjectivity of Hispanic women, especially agricultural migrant workers, is almost non existent. The American legal system’s complete oversight of sexual assault among Hispanic women as created an extremely hostile work environment where their bodies are only viewed for pleasure.

What can the American legal system do, if anything to protect the rights of Hispanic women? How can Filipina women in Lebanon be seen as equal in the eyes of the patriarchal country?

What’s Sex Got to Do With… Janay Palmer Rice

Since that fateful elevator ride on February 15, 2014, Janay Rice has been at the center of a national discussion about domestic violence and, more specifically, how high profile cases are dealt with. I will provide a quick history of her and now husband (fiance at the time of the incident) Ray Rice’s assault case. Both Rice and Palmer were charged with domestic violence after a video was released of Rice dragging an unconscious Palmer out of an Atlantic City elevator (2/15/14). The Baltimore Ravens tweeted that the charges were “serious”. Rice was indicted on charges of third degree aggravated assault (3/27/14). Rice and Palmer marry (3/28/14). Rice is suspended for the first two games of the 2014 NFL season (7/25/14). Additional footage released by TMZ shows Rice punching Palmer (9/8/14). This footage may or may not have been available to the NFL the entire time. The Baltimore Ravens release Rice from his contract and he is suspended from the NFL. Rice wins an appeal and is eligible to sign with any NFL team (11/28/14). The suspension and reinstatement through a technicality could be the subject of an entire post itself, but one of the often overlooked components of this case is the apology that Janay Rice had to give.

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