Laws Without Teeth

To its credit, this Times of India article is trying to say that the use of “modesty” as a legal principle on which to judge rape cases is ludicrous and archaic. However, its proposed solution falls short:

What India urgently needs is a comprehensive definition of sexual assault recognising its different forms and the varying degrees of psychological and physical harm it causes. South Africa, for example, has a graded definition of sexual assault based on the gravity of the offence and resulting harm.

I’m pretty astounded that South Africa is cited as an example, considering that country’s horrendous statistics on rape. Clearly, the letter of the law is not enough when the issue boils down to underlying attitudes toward women: namely, the radical notion that women have the agency to assert, deny, or withdraw consent.

And lest we think the modesty issue is confined to developing countries, keep in mind that slut-shaming falls on the same spectrum of straw men used to cloud the issue of consent. Examples here, there, and everywhere.

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Faces of Terrorism

Cross posted at SAALT.

I’m still horrified by the recent events in Norway. I hope that all those directly affected will soon be on a path to emotional recovery.

As the world watched and waited to discover who was behind this savagery, major news outlets began leaking their own biases. Jennifer Rubin has already been taken to task and forced to backtrack from this piece for the Washington Post. Foreign Policy asked “Why Would Norway Be a Target?” In answering that question, the piece focused solely on al-Qaeda and jihadis, stating that “Norway may simply have been attacked because — despite being a low priority for terror groups — it proved to be an easier target than higher profile locations. And in the wake of bin Laden’s killing, al Qaeda has been looking to launch an attack against the West.”

Of course, we now know that these speculations were dead wrong. Anders Behring Breivik is a Norwegian right-wing extremist who expressed solidarity with anti-Islamist bloggers Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer in his manifesto. These bloggers are now on the defensive, making sure to distance Breivik from Christianity, and themselves from Breivik’s actions.

This Slate piece does an excellent job exposing the hypocrisy at work here. Playing guilt-by-association is a dangerous game, and hopefully having their words touted by a mass murderer will teach Geller, and people like her, some important lessons on accountability. They would like to single out Breivik as a lone madman. Roger Cohen rebuts: “Breivik is no loner. His violence was brewed in a specific European environment . . . relative economic decline, a jobless recovery, middle-class anxiety and high levels of immigration serving as the backdrop for racist Islamophobia and use of the spurious specter of a ‘Muslim takeover’ as a wedge political issue to channel frustrations rightward.”

Worldwide terrorism has left us all with scars. But the hate is not unidirectional, and neither is the blame.

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More Voices

I’ve been blogging over at in my capacity as NYC area Field Fellow. The following is cross-posted at the SAALT Spot .

Do you remember the name Mark Anthony Stroman?

On September 21, 2001, Stroman walked into several Dallas area service stations looking to retaliate against someone, anyone, for the 9/11 attacks. He fatally shot Vasudev Patel, a Hindu immigrant from India, and Waqar Hasan, a Pakistan-born Muslim immigrant. Rais Bhuiyan, Stroman’s third victim, survived after being shot in the face at close range.

Stroman is due to be executed today, nearly a decade after the attacks. Despite Stroman’s confession, Bhuiyan has been working tirelessly to get Stroman released from death row. When asked about his motivation, Bhuiyan replied with extraordinary compassion:

 I was raised very well by my parents and teachers. They raised me with good morals and strong faith. They taught me to put yourself in others’ shoes. Even if they hurt you, don’t take revenge. Forgive them. Move on. It will bring something good to you and them. My Islamic faith teaches me this too. He said he did this as an act of war and a lot of Americans wanted to do it but he had the courage to do it — to shoot Muslims. After it happened I was just simply struggling to survive in this country. I decided that forgiveness was not enough. That what he did was out of ignorance. I decided I had to do something to save this person’s life. . . He could educate a lot of people.

Ten years later, we don’t hear much about 9/11 retaliation crimes, but it’s evident that the sentiment behind the aftermath still simmers below the surface of our political discourse. In just the past year, New York has seen feverish protests against a proposed Islamic Center close to the World Trade Center site, and thinly-veiled bigotry in calls for hearings concerning the “radicalization” of Muslim-Americans. Our politicians often grandstand on these matters, seeking to satisfy the loudest voices. That’s precisely why SAALT’s campaign is so important: it seeks to bring previously marginalized voices to the conversation. It’s time for policymakers to realize it’s no longer politically viable to alienate substantial constituent blocs – because we will stand up and demand nothing less than an America for all of us.

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Intent Isn’t King

Leonard Lopate hosted a segment on comedy last week, speaking with comedians Paul Provenza and Billy Connolly. Lopate asked his guests if any jokes were truly off-limits, citing Gilbert Gottfried’s Japan “jokes” and Tracy Morgan’s homophobic shenanigans. Connolly immediately made the comment that “intent is everything” when it comes to controversial humor.

I beg to differ. This attitude takes all the onus off the performer and puts it on to the listener if s/he doesn’t “get it,” regardless of whatever relevant life experiences made the listener feel uncomfortable with a particular joke. In any meaningful relationship, it’s a mistake to alienate the other party by explaining why s/he is wrong in feeling slighted, simply because that wasn’t the intent behind a given action. I’ve certainly learned this lesson the hard way in my relationship with my husband – if his personal thought processes/experiences cause him to react negatively to certain words or actions of mine, then I have to take responsibility and apologize, even though it’s never my intent to upset him. I see no reason why the relationship between comedian and spectator should be any different – especially if the comedian wants the spectator to stick around.

Intent is relevant – particularly in a gray area such as comedy, where a degree of facetiousness is expected. But it is not a get-out-of-jail-free card, and it certainly is not “everything”.

Image from
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Why I Donated to Hollaback’s “I’ve Got Your Back” Campaign

I went out to run a quick errand the other day. I only expected to be out for about five minutes, but then I kept thinking of other tasks that needed doing, and ended up walking around town for about half an hour. Not an extraordinary occurrence, but since I ended up traveling more than two blocks, I was acutely aware of how vulnerable I felt without the protection of sunglasses and headphones – items I usually never leave the house without, in anticipation of street harassment.

Growing up in suburban New Jersey, I had zero experience with street harassment. So it was quite the rude awakening (I guess there’s no other kind when it comes to street harassment) when I moved to Baltimore for college, and was immediately subjected to unbelievably aggressive harassment, worse than any point in my life since. I’ll never forget the face of the guy who got out of his car to follow me and proposition me as I walked back to campus from Kinko’s, all in broad daylight. There were people around, but I still felt completely alone, and scared as hell.

It never occurred to me that a bystander could have, should have, intervened on my behalf. Awareness is everything, and the “I’ve Got Your Back” campaign gets that. It’s time to ditch the sunglasses and headphones, stick up for one another, and stick it to harassers.

Hollaback is ridiculously close to their fundraising goal – let’s push them over the edge. Donate here.

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So Much Fail…

…From NYPD spokesman Paul Browne.

In an article detailing that reported rapes are up 16%, possibly due to better institutional procedures and training, Mr. Browne says that women can breathe a little easier because most rape victims know their attackers:

“If there is a glass-half-full aspect to it,” Police spokesman Paul Browne said of the uptick, “it’s the fact that in over 80% of the cases the victim knows her assailant.”

Astonishing. We’re supposed to be comforted by the fact that if someone is assaulted, there’s a 4 in 5 chance s/he knows the perpetrator? Shouldn’t it be cause for even more alarm that rape is so pervasive, and not limited to run-ins with strangers in dark alleys?


photo from

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This letter to Ta-Nehisi Coates eloquently states something I’m often turning over in my head. Particularly this point:

This is part of why I have little patience for humor that is “dark and edgy” – usually that kind of humor comes at the expense of people who are less-than in society. Even if they come from someone who thinks that they are making the jokes at the expense of bigots, our society hasn’t advanced to the point where we don’t rape women or beat gay people; that kind of humor, rather than being something edgy, simply echoes the views of the majority of people, and there is nothing more establishment than, wittingly or unwittingly, mocking those who are already down.

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Some Thoughts on SlutWalks

Image: "SlutWalk" protest in Toronto on April 3

Unsurprisingly, the SlutWalks campaign has attracted plenty of negative attention: this from Melanie Phillips of the Daily Mail, for example.

I’ll admit, the word “slut” makes me uncomfortable and I do my best to avoid it. I strongly feel that the term undermines the paramount importance of consent, and of course, demonizes sex workers. Still, I understand that many people believe in the power of appropriation to make effective statements. Phillips’ criticism is fairly representative of the tensions between older and younger generations of feminists, and while I get tired of hearing that the younger generation takes too much for granted, that’s not the bigger issue at hand…

To address the actual aim of SlutWalks: when people fixate on the issue of womens’ wardrobes, it demonstrates a lack of empathy with survivors’ stories, as well as little understanding of consent. The clothing a woman wears does not turn a non-rapist into a rapist. A rapist is someone who by definition does not care about consent. There is a depressingly large body of evidence to prove that clothing is not the factor that convinces someone to commit rape. I read stories regularly, almost daily, about elderly women being assaulted in New York. I don’t even have the emotional energy to link to them. Suffice it to say that it astounds me that so many continue to insist that short skirts are contributing to the problem.

When someone says “no,”  a decent person will stop what s/he is doing, regardless of what the other party is drinking, wearing, whatever. A rapist will not. It’s really that simple.


photo from Mark Blinch of Reuters
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My Working Mom

My Working Mom

Tina Fey mentions the children’s book My Working Mom in her memoir. Curious, I headed over to Amazon to see the cover for myself, which indeed portrays a witch mother. A smiling witch mother, but a witch mother regardless. Unfortunately, the positive reviews just barely outnumber the negative ones, 6-5.

Why is it that no one thinks to publish a book called My Working Dad,  complete with a friendly piranha-dad on the cover?

Oh, wait, I know why.

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A Bit of Self-Censure

I was reading some of my older writing, both on this blog and my old one, and found myself thinking for a moment that my posts on general politics and foreign policy were somehow more hard-hitting than the ones I write now.

I had the disturbing realization that maybe I thought that way because somewhere deep down, I’m still programmed to believe that women’s issues are, by nature, somehow “softer,” of less consequence, than wars, elections, and economic theory. The list goes on.

Rationally, I know that the inequitable treatment of women feeds into many problems on that list. But deprogramming oneself is a difficult business nonetheless.

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