Archive for October, 2007

FL Jury: Parental Rights Include Forced Genital Piercing

October 30, 2007


A Florida woman was acquitted of child abuse charges after forcibly shaving her daughter’s head and piercing her genitals in an attempt to curb the 13 year-old’s promiscuity. The event occurred after the girl allegedly had sex with her mother’s boyfriend. The prosecuting attorney argued a case of mental and physical abuse and introduced a motive of retribution and jealousy, but the jury saw only a loving mother doing all she could to help her troubled daughter, and found that the case intruded upon her parental rights.

Defense attorney Donald Day:

“What do you do when a child says ‘no’ and continues on a path of destruction?” he asked, adding that parents do what it takes. “… What were the options? Do nothing?”

The mother did take her daughter to a clinic for birth control and an exam, but then resorted to phoning local police in attempts to uncover whom her daughter was sleeping with. (Fishy?) The defense, however, used these efforts to illustrate how badly the system had “failed her.” So her “options” were jail or mutilation? Um, what about a therapist? What about ANYTHING else? And what about the boyfriend willing to have sex with (molest) a 13-year old?

The interesting thing about this horrific case is that two judges refused plea bargains that they felt were too lenient on the mother. The case went to trial because County Judge Mike Carr and Circuit Judge Fred Hardt felt the mother deserved a harsher punishment for her actions. It was a jury who felt otherwise. The five men and one women on Collier Circuit Court jury took about three hours to come up with their verdict.

Aggravated child abuse: Not Guilty. Child abuse: Not Guilty.

Defendants of the crime repeatedly emphasized the mother’s deeply caring nature and her desperation to change her daughter’s behavior. Sexually abused as a child this poor soul was only trying to protect her daughter from what she viewed as an act fraught with danger and pain. Her 20-year old son got teary-eyed as he testified to his sister’s wild ways and his mothers vain attempts to control her.

She forcibly shaved her head and pierced her –clitoris? labia? All articles are too genteel to specify.

“It wasn’t torture or extreme violence,” Day said. “It was, in the young girl’s words, to try to save her.”

Not torture or extreme violence. Children’s Services were initially called because the piercing had become infected and needed to be removed. Photos of the child’s labia, replete with redness, swelling, and pus, were entered into the record.

Have you ever had a deeply infected wound? This is true: Last week I was bitten by a stray cat on my lower leg. As this wasn’t the first time this has happened, I was on antibiotics literally two hours later. The next morning I couldn’t walk. My lower leg was swollen, hot and red, but not to the point of pus, and yet I couldn’t so much as touch my foot to the floor. If there had been no infection, the mother would be just as culpable, but the blatant failure to acknowledge a 13 year-olds physical and emotional agony at the hands of her own mother is astounding.

If someone had forced a Prince-Albert on a 13-year old boy, I don’t think Donald Day would call it anything but torture and degradation.

“You can now look at your children and say, ‘I did the best I can,’” jury foreman Colin Kelly told her, holding her hands as her eyes welled with tears. “This could happen to anyone.”

Those six jurors somehow found these acts exonerable. “But she meant well!” seems to have been argument enough. Kelly is later quoted as saying

“Maybe it was not the best decision in the world, but the intent was to try to stop a girl who was completely out of control…Are you going to put every parent in jail for making a bad decision?”


When Boys Cry: Gender-Bias and Sexual Abuse

October 30, 2007

A recent Associated Press investigation, which exposed a surprising prevalence of sexual misconduct in US schools, also shone light on the little-examined dynamic of gender bias. First of all, thereTeachersxlarge is a bias in the media. Although the five-year study found the majority of victims to be female and nine out of ten of the perpetrators male, female aggressors receive a preponderance of media attention, while cases perpetrated by males too often slip beneath the radar. In fact this graphic, which frequently accompanied the AP article, misleadingly suggests that nearly half of the perpetrators are female.

In this light, what should clearly be recognized as monstrous behavior suddenly becomes fodder for late-night TV monologues and titillating tabloid headlines.

Tampa’s ADA, Michael Sinacore, admitted to “some very real double-standards” in relation to male and female sex abuse, especially when the victim is a teenage boy and the predator is particularly attractive. According to the AP article Abuse Victims Viewed Differently:

Lafaveposter200(Sinacore) prosecuted Debra Lafave, a former Florida middle school teacher who admitted to having sex with a 14-year-old male student. Public attention paid to the 25-year-old blond newlywed quickly went “off the charts,” Sinacore said, after photos surfaced on the Internet of her on a motorcycle in a bikini.

“There’s something wrong with making a celebrity out of someone accused of a sex crime,” he said.

When pretty blond Carrie McCandless was discovered having a sexual relationship with her 17-year old male student, a mother in the community remarked that the situation would be a conquest akin to “climbing Mt. Everest” for any boy.

Too often this type of molestation is described as a “tryst”, “sexual liaison”, or some sort of rite of passage. Often students and adults alike expect the boy to feel pride.

According to the article, “Psychologists who treat boys say they suffer doubly – from the abuse itself, and from the view that they were lucky.”

Jeff Pickthorn was 12 when he began having sex with his 24-year old seventh-grade teacher. As an adult, he explains

“Hollywood, they think it’s such a hot thing when a guy gets laid at a young age. I tell you, it’s not a hot thing…They say that guy’s lucky. I say, no, he’s not lucky at all.”

At the time (of the abuse), Pickthorn might have agreed with them. For several months, he had sex with his teacher until his parents found out and the teacher was pressured to resign. It left him “with no boundaries,” he says now at 54, his life marred by affairs, gambling, and ruined marriages.

New York psychologist Richard Gartner, who specializes in child sexual abuse, says

“A boy is likely, with a female teacher, to claim that it wasn’t a problem, it wasn’t molestation, it wasn’t abuse, he wasn’t hurt by it. Recognition of the damage doesn’t usually occur until the man is in his 30s, 40s or later.”

Even in the justice system, prejudices remain. When New Jersey Judge Bruce A Graeta gave 43 year-old Pamela L Diehl-Moore a probation-only sentence after she confessed to having sex with her 13-year old student, he explained

“It’s just something between two people that clicked beyond the teacher-student relationship. I really don’t see the harm that was done and certainly society doesn’t need to be worried…And don’€™t forget, this was mutual consent. Now certainly under the law, he is too young to legally consent, but that’€™s what the law says. Some of the legislators should remember when they were that age. Maybe these ages have to be changed a little bit.”

Judge Graeta was later admonished for his comments, but the sentencing remained. According to the AP, “at least one academic report found that his view is common.”

Sexual abuse is always manipulative and predatory. For example, how consensual is the following?

A predator will choose a susceptible child, one who is lonely or insecure, and “groom” that child with systematic praising, special attention, empathy, and gifts during which time the adult will introduce what begins as affectionate gestures and progressively grows more sexual. It is a power-play from beginning to end.

Yet, despite the plotting nature of the crime, people are more willing to believe that a woman had some sort of meaningful relationship with the child, and was motivated by good intentions and genuine “feeling”. Mary Kay Letourneau served seven years in prison for the statutory rape of her 13-year old student. Shortly after her release she and the boy, now 21 were married. They have two daughters. She has written a biography of the scandal. It’s called “Only One Crime, Love.”

Media analyst Matthew Felling admits that female perpetrators are consistently treated differently than their male counterparts.

The main dichotomy is in coverage, men are demonized, women are diagnosed,” Felling said. “Men are beasts, but women are troubled, or mentally ill.”

He feels the media coverage is “part crime drama, part Penthouse letter.”

According to Dr Keith Kaufman, chairman of the psychology department Portland State University, “(Boys’) brain maturation isn’t complete. Boys aren’t in a position to give consent to a sexual relationship. Girls see it as abusive much more quickly.” Boys give in to the expected bravdo in part because they don’t ” want to see themselves as a victim.”

I don’t want to dwell on the punishment of the women, but rather on the additional suffering boys experience because of societal perceptions. In the case of teenage boys and female aggressors, there is the expectation of enjoyment and gratitude. There is also the reluctance to admit, or fear no one will believe, that the female was in control, was “stronger” than he.

NOTE: Society has plenty of degrading and damaging expectations about and behaviors toward women. I know. I have and will continue to write about them. But men have societal pressures as well, and in the case of sexual abuse, it punishes them in a way not often acknowledged.

In our current culture, men have the strength. However, this dominant role leaves little room for vulnerability, let alone the utter helplessness of victimization. Men are not supposed to be victims. They are not supposed to be weak. They are not supposed to admit vulnerability, or openly express sorrow.

Yes, they were young boys when the offense(s) took place, but the way this in the least frames and at the most defines a victim’s very identity, in many ways the abuse dictates a victim’s self perception for decades. Perhaps, for life.

Men who were abused as boys generally experience some or all of several common emotional “themes” throughout their life and (hopefully) eventual process of healing. Many of these are common to women as well: anger, betrayal, helplessness, alienation, fear.

Certain aspects of suffering however, are unique to the male experience. Part of this is, according to a 1994 study by David Lisak, legitimacy. Men have difficulty accepting themselves as a victim. Women are victimized. They have the hot-lines and safe houses. They’re physically smaller and weaker (typically). Women, it is perceived, can be victims and still be “okay”, still be “good”. Something was done to them and there was nothing anyone could have expected them to do at the time.

Men question how they could have been abused. They struggle with identifying themselves as a victim and still seeing themselves as worthwhile. They will try to take responsibility for the events rather than admit helplessness. Maybe they liked it, let it happen. Maybe there is something else inherently wrong with them to account for the emotions and behaviors they’ve otherwise been unable to explain.

Women can do this too, but this is more about guilt and assuming the shame. For men it can feel like a survival mechanism. They may refuse to admit victimization because it cuts into the core of their gender-identity. Men are protectors. If they’ve been victims in such a deeply painful way, who can they protect?

I’m not at all trying to compare the quality of experiences. Sexual abuse is devastating and the lifetime of suffering radiates in concentric waves to all of those around the victim.

The plight of boys based on what our culture expects of men is simply something I rarely see addressed and in my opinion it deserved a few words.

If you have any thoughts on the topic – please chime in!

More Resources:
The Sexual Abuse of Males: Prevalence, Possible Lasting Effects, & Resources
Wealth of information from Loads of resources and articles. Controlled studies. And more…
Richard Gartner
Manhattan-based Psychotherapist specializing in gender-specific treatment of sexual abuse.

Long-Term Consequences of Childhood Sexual Abuse by Gender of the Victim
Clinical Study Dube, 2005
Male Survivor.Org
Online support and resource center aimed at “overcoming sexual victimization of boys and men.”
Next Step Counselling
Website of Mike Lew, author of “Victim No Longer: The Classic Guide for Men Recovering from Childhood Sexual Abuse” and “Leaping upon the Mountains: Men Proclaiming Victory Over Sexual Child Abuse.” (Both available through the site.)

Blumenthal Finds “Values Voters” Growing More Extreme

October 30, 2007

Max Blumenthal on Huffington today:Valuesvoterswhitelogo

On October 20 and 21st, I attended the Value Voters Summit, a massive
gathering hosted by the Colorado-based Christian right mega-ministry,
Focus on the Family, and its Washington lobbying arm, the Family
Research Council. […]

If anything, the movement seemed more extreme and paranoid than it did four years ago. […]

Star Parker, a former welfare cheat who had multiple abortions, claimed to me that abortion is the leading cause of death among African American women between the ages of 25 and 34. Then she described her wish for the forced quarantine of all “sodomites.” Parker was not a lone wacko milling around in the hallway; she was a speaker invited by the Family Research Council.

Check out his video report “Theocracy Now: In Search of Values at the 2007 Value Voters Summit” and see for yourself.

Male Non-Activist Med Student Tells the Truth About Planned Parenthood

October 30, 2007

In the blog “Over My Med Body“, a male med student who is “hardly and activist or a zealot” describes how his views of Planned Parenthood changed once he worked in a local clinic. Now he says, “Planned Parenthood rocks,” and “there would be more abortions performed in this country if Planned Parenthood didn’t exist.” He explains why in his post: Planned Parenthood Ain’t About Abortion.

Morning After Pill For Rape Victims – The “Reluctant Compliance” of CT’s Bishops

October 29, 2007

Angela Bonavoglia, author of Good Catholic Girls: How Women are Leading the Fight to Change the Church, and The Choices We Made: 25 Women and Men Speak Out About Abortion, has this great little piece in Huffington today.

A “Good Time” Assured in College Football Recruitment – The Colorado U. Gang Rape Case

October 29, 2007

In 2001 football recruits visited the University of Connecticut-Boulder for a weekend, and they were promised a “good time”. Later that night two female students, whom they had been partying with earlier, were gang raped in their beds by several of the athletes. The circuits judges ruled that

CU had an official policy of showing high school football recruits a ‘good time’ on their visits to the campus.” The university failed to provide adequate supervision to the recruits.

“The likelihood of such misconduct was so obvious that CU’s failure was the result of deliberate indifference,” the judges wrote in their ruling.[Em. mine]

Without enough evidence to convict the boys, the victims, Lisa Simpson and Anne Gilmore filed a case to sue the University for fostering and turning a blind eye to the environment that led to their rape.

Tenth Circuit Judge Harris Hartz wrote that leading up to the alleged assaults of the plaintiffs, there were a variety of sources suggesting the risks that sexual assault would occur if recruiting was “inadequately supervised” — citing the assault of a high-school girl at a party in 1997 and a meeting with the district attorney.

“Yet CU did little to change its policies or training following that meeting,” the judge wrote. “In particular, player-hosts were not instructed on the limits of appropriate entertainment.”

In fact, the administration claimed that without the lure of a “good time”, they would be at a recruiting disadvantage. The “good time” being parties with alcohol and plenty of cute, “willing” girls, none of whom are aware that their voluntary presence at a party is actually part of an explicit promise to the athletes. These
young boys are being courted by the athletic department and are in the midst of a look-at-all-we-can-do-for-you weekend. The implications of this are obvious.

Yet, in 2005 federal district court Judge Robert Blackburn wrongfully dismissed the lawsuit, according to Simpson’s lawyer Baine Kerr, finding that the administration had no reason to suspect the likelihood of misconduct, despite repeated charges of sexual assault against the football club that spanned the last decade.

In September an appeals court reexamined Title IX, the 1972 statute that held federally-funded schools responsible for instances of gender discrimination in school-sponsored activities or events. Broadening its application, the court reversed Blackburn’s 2005 ruling citing evidence

that the university athletic department sanctioned recruiting programs that had been proven to lead to sexual abuses and that it never developed guidelines and training for student athletes to prevent such abuse.

Jocelyn Samuels of the National Women’s Law Center feels that holding the institution itself culpable for digressions like these will lead to a safer college environment for young women.

By describing evidence of abuse and itemizing ways the university continued to ignore it, the court in essence spells out for all schools how they will be held accountable under Title IX prohibitions of sex discrimination in education.

Earlier this month CU appealed the ruling on grounds of unreasonable liability.

As with most University sports team rape cases, this one seems to have polarized the community. One side cries out in outrage for the suffering of the women and the other throws their hands up in disgust at the (mostly) innocent yet vilified players who suffer from “trumped up” charges of two greedy women and their attorney.

Bruce Plaskett was so moved by the injustice of the case that he wrote a book entitled “Buffaloed: How Race, Gender, and Media Bias fueled a Season of Scandal.” According to its product description on Amazon, the book tells the tale of “media ran amok with unsubstantiated allegations” by failing to “report the innocent football players both black and white.” From what I’ve been able to find, one of the men originally accused was later found innocent. The story in the book “is one of bigotry and self-serving public officials whose agendas ruined the reputations of dozens of people associated with CU’s football program.”

Kerr wrote a letter to Plaskett’s publisher Prentice-Hill suggesting they fact-check about a dozen different points in the book. Shortly thereafter Prentice-Hill canceled publication. Of course suspicions linger, such as on the conspiracy website Volokh Conspiracy, of…well a conspiracy whereby the book was silenced by “the man” for the ill-specified reasons of money, power, fame.

Most of the contention pops up in comment boards and this is what I found most disturbing. Contentious posts often dealt with the women’s drunkenness, the fact the party was at Simpson’s home, that Simpson drove her car hours after the rape, and remained silent about the rape for more than a year. Anything, it seems, to find reasons why she would be making this up. No good reason as to why she and Gilmore would fabricate this so long after the fact, but the assumption that they directly benefit from the suffering of the innocent athletes is clear in every negative post.

For example, on a CU News site article about the case. Especially this from “Odog”

...let me ask you. When a girl doesn’t say NO, verbally or physically- but she is simply too drunk to consent- how is it reasonable for a drunk male to walk away?

And on another board “Olonkun” says

This is exactly the kind of garbage that perpetuates the ‘nanny state’ mentality and results in increasingly more intrusions on civil liberties. Idiot judge.

And the evidence suggests it’s all because some ditzy unattractive drunk chick regreted some choices she made the morning after and needed to project the blame on to others to protect her dillusion of purityh. Oh, and because she saw the chance to cash in. (Spelling orig.)

On this board “Connie” gives a female perspective:

Good Grief. I was a college student once and I knew better than to party with jocks – be they current CU students or potential students. If my roommates had brought such folks into the house – I would have found someplace else to stay for the night.

Yes, it was her home, but sometimes you’ve got to take responsibility for yourself. Getting drunk with a bunch of jocks, be they under aged or not, is just asking for the kind of trouble she found.

“Just asking for (it).” I’m too sickened to go on. Check it out yourself, if you have the stomach.

Fuckshitcunt: The Linguistics of Foul Language – What Pinker Gets Wrong

October 29, 2007

Steven Pinker has a piece in The New Republic this month entitled Swearing_2

What the F***? Why We Swear“. He starts off with an FCC ruling on Bono’s 2002 Golden Globes acceptance utterance, “This is really, really, fucking brilliant,” for which NBC wasn’t penalized because of the context of his remark.

Then Pinker goes on to examine the many different ways in which we swear and asks the pertinent question, why do we really care in the first place?

My angry mind jumps to religious blaspheme-based mores that have infiltrated the government just to trounce on my freedom of speech. But of course Pinker smartly broadens the argument with evolutionary biology, neurology, and yes, religious subtext along with our centuries-long progression of views on sex, anatomy, and disease-carrying bodily fluids.

He examines what, exactly, we’re reacting to. Sound? Meaning? Intent?

The strange emotional power of swearing–as well as the presence of linguistic taboos in all cultures– suggests that taboo words tap into deep and ancient parts of the brain. In general, words have not just a denotation but a connotation: an emotional coloring distinct from what the word literally refers to, as in principled versus stubborn and slender versus scrawny. The difference between a taboo word and its genteel synonyms, such as shit and feces, cunt and vagina, or fucking and making love, is an extreme example of the distinction. Curses provoke a different response than their synonyms in part because connotations and denotations are stored in different parts of the brain.

Scans show that humans process denotation, implicit meaning in a word or image, primarily in the neo-cortex, or “fore-brain”, where much of our “intellect” (reasoning and delayed gratification) resides. Connotation on the other hand, (innuendo and subtext) spans across the neo-cortex and into the limbic system, or “hind brain”. The limbic system handles, among other things, knee-jerk emotional response and instantaneous “fight or flight” kind of stuff. This suggests that connotation can evoke a strong and involuntary emotional response. Maybe it’s why sarcasm can have such a sting.

Anyway, it’s all fascinating. I love it…

Until this:

A discussion about bodily fluids, namely why shit, piss, fart, snot, and spit are each less offensive than the last because in actuality each would be less offensive to do in public, turns to the evolutionary acknowledgment that each of these fluids are also great carriers of bacteria and other disease-spreading organisms and therefore our aversion to them serves a purpose. Then he says

Some people have been puzzled about why cunt should be taboo. It is not just an unprintable word for the vagina but the most offensive epithet for a woman in America. One might have thought that, in the male-dominated world of swearing, the vagina would be revered, not reviled. After all, it’s been said that no sooner does a boy come out of it than he spends the rest of his life trying to get back in. This becomes less mysterious if one imagines the connotations in an age before tampons, toilet paper, regular bathing, and antifungal drugs.

How can someone so completely miss the point? Women have been seen not only as second class – weaker, less intelligent, not competent to make decisions about their own lives, but also as agents of sinful thoughts and desires. Women’s bodies are stilled widely seen as great temptations that cause men to act in ways they cannot expect to be held accountable for. In Muslim countries it is the sole purpose of purdah. In the US it is why a woman’s outfit on the night in question is an admissible topic in a rape trial.

Instead of celebrating the life-giving attributes of a woman’s body, historically women are led to feel ashamed and to hide them. How many non-married women have “disappeared” for nine months before re-emerging and acting as though nothing had happened? Until this decade maternity clothes were meant to cloak. Even today, a woman breast-feeding in public stirs emotional debate.

When I was in India I visited a site of ancient cenotaphs and a sign at the entrance read “A woman in her monthly time will please refrain from entering.” I can tell you it’s not because menstrual blood has more disease-causing agents than blood or piss or spit.

Cunt has become the word that it is precisely because it is the very center of womanhood. Men may be “trying to get back in”, but it’s not out of reverence. It’s about physical pleasure, ownership and control.

Later in the article he says

Not surprisingly, in all cultures men pursue sex more eagerly, are more willing to have casual sex, and are more likely to seduce, deceive, or coerce to get sex. All things being equal, casual sex works to the advantage of men, both genetically and emotionally. We might expect casual talk about sex to show the same asymmetry, and so it does. Men swear more, on average, and many
taboo sexual terms are felt to be especially demeaning to women– hence the old prohibition of swearing “in mixed company.”

A sex difference in tolerance for sexual language may seem like a throwback to Victorian daintiness. But an unanticipated consequence of the second wave of feminism in the 1970s was a revived sense of offense at swearing, the linguistic companion to the campaign against pornography. As a result, many universities and businesses have published guidelines on sexual harassment that ban telling sexual jokes, and, in 1993, veteran Boston Globe journalist David Nyhan was forced to apologize and donate $1,250 to a women’s organization when a female staffer overheard him in the newsroom using the word pussy-whipped with a male colleague who declined his invitation to play basketball after work. The feminist writer Andrea Dworkin explicitly connected coarse sexual language to the oppression of women: “Fucking requires that the male act on one who has less power and this valuation is so deep, so completely implicit in the act, that the one who is fucked is stigmatized.”

This is really unfair. First of all, it wasn’t that women were less sexual and less likely to appreciate bawdy subject matter. (See the working class of the time, walk into a Victorian pub in 1850 and how many pale, blushing ladies would you expect to find?) Men weren’t to speak coarsely in “mixed company because women were deemed weaker and would be somehow harmed by the stress of hearing harsh language. They needed to be protected and only needed to know what the men in their lives felt they should know. (Look at all the women who perish from a broken heart in Victorian novels.)

My mothers still finds it flattering when a man refuses to use rough language in her presence. I , however, am offended. Do they think they’ll break me? That I’ll faint?

But what’s really not fair is Pinker’s inclusion of the women’s movement in the 70’s. Having not so much as alluded to, or given evidence that he is even aware of, the incredible injustices that women have suffered and continue to suffer, he cheapens the reality of an important era in women’s history by picking two really outlandish samples. $1,250 for being exposed to the term pussy-whipped? That’s ridiculous and puritanical and not “liberated” at all. In fact it encourages a “not in mixed company” doctrine and is a misguided and completely inadequate example of “sexual harassment”.

As for Andrea Dworkin’s quote that

“Fucking requires that the male act on one who has less power and this valuation is so deep, so completely implicit in the act, that the one who is fucked is stigmatized.”

Um, no it doesn’t. No they aren’t. Not unless a man is treating a woman in a demeaning way, robbing her of her power by his words or actions. No. No, fucking is fucking! It’s sex. The connotation’s not very romantic, but it isn’t supposed to be. If Pinker’s trying underly the usage of “Oh man, you’re so fucked!”, while I wouldn’t agree, I could maybe see the point. But he’s clearly not. He’s just citing another example of how language is re-evaluated based on changing perceptions.

I think Pinker is brilliant, actually. (Maybe I should have mentioned that earlier?) But if he’s going to enter the gender-roles arena at all, he is remiss to take such a thoughtless approach. It’s incomplete and misleading.

I understand he is a cognitive and evolutionary psychologist. He’s not a sociologist. He’s not an anthropologist. Fine. Gender inequality can have evolutionary underpinnings. In fact, everything probably does.

My point is simply this: either leave it out or give it the treatment it deserves.

Too Much Vagina For Prime Time TV…

October 28, 2007

The Times did a piece on the stylish new term “vajayjay” (under the headline “What did you call it”, which I stillIlovevagina_2

don’t get). Vajayjay launched into the popular lexicon through, of all places, a 2006 episode of Grey’s Anatomy. Bailey, in the throes of labor, admonishes a male intern with, “O’Malley, stop looking at my vajayjay!” Oprah, who is such a Grey’s fan that she says, “I don’t watch TV, but I watch that,” (which I also don’t get), soon dropped the term on-air, and the rest is history. (Search “oprah vajayjay” on Youtube for a taste.)

The irony is that the line is a re-write. The original line simply read, “O’Malley, stop looking at my vagina.” Shonda Rhimes, Grey’s co-creator and executive producer, wasn’t a fan of the change, which was prompted not by an effort to pump up the humor, nor to make it more true to Bailey’s character (although a retrospective argument could probably be made for both). Instead it was changed to appease “standards and practices” executives who felt the word vagina had been too prevalent so far that season. Rhimes explains

“I had written an episode during the second season of ‘Grey’s’ in which we used the word vagina a great many times (perhaps 11)…Now, we’d once used the word penis 17 times in a single episode and no one blinked. But with vagina, the good folks at broadcast standards and practices blinked over and over and over. I think no one is comfortable experiencing the female anatomy out
loud — which is a shame considering our anatomy is half the population.”

According to wikipedia, the “standards and practices” department is responsible for the “‘moral’, ethical, and legal implications of the program(s)” on a particular network. An FCC spokesman told the Times that the commission doesn’t penalize for the number of times a word such as vagina or penis is used in an episode or a season. Instead

if the words are used in a graphic and explicit description of “sexual or excretory organs or activities,” he said, it might contribute to a finding of indecency. “Context is a critical factor,” he said.

Indecency? Context? The woman is giving birth! Is there ever a more decent and natural time to use the word vagina?

Since its national exposure, vajayjay has seemingly become a user-friendly term for a woman’s “unmentionables”. The article quotes Geoffrey Numberg, a linguist at Berkeley:

“There was a need for a pet name, a name that women can use in a familiar way among themselves.”

Why? Eve Ensler powerfully illustrates the link between secrecy and shame in her Vagina Monologues, written not from the mind of one woman but culled from the voices of hundreds. “What we don’t say becomes a secret, and secrets often create shame and fear and myths.”

In a 2006 Time Magazine interview she says

When I started doing The Vagina Monologues, I realized how impossible it was for women to say the word. I would see the disgust, the shame, the embarrassment. The vagina is smack in the center of our bodies, yet it is a place that most women felt ashamed of talking about. What did that say about the center of our beings? There’s something in the uttering of the word that reattaches you to it. It’s empowering.

Watch Eve’s powerful lecture at TED in 2006: Finding happiness in body and soul.

Why do we need a new word? Men sometimes name their penises, but this is a personal and generally prideful thing. Sure, there’s plenty of penis slang, but how much of it is implicitly degrading?

The linguist Steven Pinker believes that we need to reinvent new terminology when old terminology gets bogged down by attached innuendo. In this case, all other words for vagina have become fraught with added meaning. The Times article insists the need for

a word for female genitalia that is not clinical, crude, coy, misogynistic or descriptive of a vagina from a man’s point of view.

That’s my whole point, why is it that the most basic, fundamental, life-giving part of a woman is termed by male view-point?

I have no problem with “vajayjay.” It has a funny, non-serious, everyday-life kind of feel. John McHale from TV’s “The Soup” said

It’s not derogatory. It’s not ‘You’re being such a vajayjay right now.’ It’s kind of a sweet thing. Vajayjay is like your good buddy.

The Queen of Media herself asked her audience, “I think vajayjay is a nice word, don’t you?” The truth is, yes Oprah, I do. I just don’t like the fact that it has come to prominence because all alternatives remain or have become either shameful or derogatory.

Just something to think about…

The Evangelical Crackup

October 27, 2007

Intensive article in the Times today about a deeply divided Christian right. Hard to believe when presidential hopefuls spout idiocy like this, but comforting none the less. And you gotta love this quote:

“Obama sounds too much like Osama,” said Kayla Nickel of Westlink. “When he says his name, I am like, ‘I am not voting for a Muslim!’”

We Don’t Like Your Clergy – PA Judge to Nullify “Thousands of Weddings”

October 26, 2007


According to a USA Today article, a judge in York county PA recently re-interpreted state law to find that ministers lacking a “regularly established church or congregation” are unqualified to perform marriages. Now, couples who have been married by ministers ordained over the internet-based Universal Life Church, and who have filed the proper paperwork with the county are, sometimes years later, facing potentially invalid marriages.

State Rep. Katie True, a Lancaster County Republican who co-sponsored the bill, explains

“To me, if you want to perform marriages, you have to go to school and learn the teachings for the correct way to perform this extremely solemn ceremony,”

I mean really, you need what we feel is the right kind of clergy so your ceremony will be sufficiently “solemn”, otherwise you’re not married at all? Why does a wedding ceremony need to uphold other’s standards of godliness (“correctness”) in order to be legally valid? And why is this issue so upsetting that it needs to be corrected retrospectively?

This is an inherent problem of an institution being equally a religious and a legal matter. There is such a sense of personal attack when people consider marriage. if we allow two homosexuals to be married, what does that say about all marriage, about my marriage? After all, my god doesn’t like that… If your minister isn’t as devote as my minister, how can your marriage be valid? What does that say about all marriage? About mine??

The ACLU obviously recognizes a church-state issue and is considering action. MaryCatherine Roper, ACLU attorney in Philadelphia says

“Lots of clergy don’t have congregations but do other things, and to suggest that those are not
legitimate ministers is insulting and disregarding the religious work of any number of denominations.”

If the York county precedent holds in PA’s other 66 counties, the potential for legal and domestic dispute boarders on chaotic, with the legitimacy of thousands of marriages hanging in the balance. Yes, this issue really is that important.

Huckabee: Non-Marital, Non-Pro-Creation Sex is as Wrong as Drunk Driving or Beating Your Wife

October 25, 2007

Although I’m well aware the Christian right holds such views, it’s difficult to believe that they think this mindset is so irreproachably correct that it can be spouted off boldly on the campaign trail and no moral person will reasonably find fault. Mike Huckabee equates any sex that would require contraception, whether to prevent pregnancy or disease, as wrong. I mean really, morally wrong. As wrong as domestic violence and drunk driving. He expounds that having sex with a condom is like hitting your wife “not as hard”, whereas abstaining would be like not hitting her at all.

Here’s what Huckabee says about funding safe-sex programs to fight AIDS in Africa. When asked if his religious views would prevent him from funding such programs he replied that encouraging safe sex was similar to encouraging people to not “drive as drunk” or telling domestic abusers to not hit “as hard…

If we really are serious about stopping a problem, whether it’s drunk driving…we don’t say “Don’t drive ‘as drunk’?” …This is an illogical thing that we apply to that one area that we don’t apply to any other area. And I’m open-minded to listen to all the arguments, if someone can convince me a little reckless behavior is OK. Maybe that’s the message. But it would seem to me that if we’re consistent in saying reckless behavior is, in fact, undesirable we should ask people to move their
behavior to the standard and not move the standard to the behavior…We don’t say that a little domestic violence is OK, just cut it down a little, just don’t hit quite as hard. We say it’s wrong.”

(From Huffington Post. Watch video here.)

Although every candidate has his or her foot-in-mouth moment (like, erm…Huckabee’s suicide joke), Huckabee used multiple and redundant examples to illustrate his point. Only a month ago he addressed this issue much more moderately. Fielding a question from CNN about AIDS in Africa, he admitted that having condoms “is certainly is more effective than not having them,” but stressed that people needed to be educated that condoms are not 100% effective.

Ironically, according to a CNN article:

Huckabee made the comments after speaking to a group of about 70 supporters at a restaurant in Columbia where the former Arkansas governor emphasized his consistent position on social issues.

“You’re not going to go to the Internet and find some YouTube moment of me saying something dramatically different…”

No, you’ll go on Huffington Post or any of the dozens of other sites now posting the video. He seems to be shifting his tactics and this perplexes me.

At at time where Hilary is doing interviews in Essence about Bill’s romantic side, and Obama clumsily tries to straddle the Evangelical black vote and the gay vote, candidates are pandering left and right because, as I’ve blogged, people often cast their vote on intangible feelings and nebulous faith. The right and wrong of this is another matter.

The point is, it appears the Christian far-right think their kind of anti-homosexual, anti-feminist, biblical-bound beliefs represent such a superior world-view that they need not pander at all. Can they believe they are so right that this un-couched approach will win an election, cure homosexuality, end abortion, and transform the country? I think they repeatedly see what they want to see and ignore everything else. Therefore, they must. So, keep talking Huckabee…

Sexual Abuse Part 1: Prevalence In US Schools Higher Than It Seems

October 24, 2007


The Associated Press released a study this week on the prevalence of sexual misconduct in US schools, citing at least 2,500 instances in both public and private schools between 2001-2005, 80% of which involved students. That’s more than 2,000 children in four years. However, a number of factors ensure that the actual number is exceedingly higher.

First of all, Maine has a perplexing law, dated back to 1913, that protects the identity teachers who have been decertified for any reason. The three cases cited in the report are the few that garnered nationwide attention.

Secondly, the report only documents teachers whose credentials have been revoked, denied, or suspended based on accusations (presumed proof) of sexual misconduct. Most accusations result in no action being taken and are never documented.

Now consider that each perpetrator most likely has had multiple victims.

And don’t forget that the majority of cases go unreported for years, decades, or are never told at all.

Why don’t children tell?

The website Prevent Abuse Now has compiled a wealth of information on child and family welfare, including a compendium of studies on child abuse. Here are a few snippets that address motivations behind the silences of child victims.

  • Abuse shatters a child’s ability to trust, especially when suffered at the hands of a long-trusted authority figure. An enormous amount of trust is required to reveal such devastating information.
  • A child may worry that the consequences of revealing the secret will be worse than the abuse itself. They may fear the reaction of their family, feel guilty about the consequences to the abuser, or may remain silence because of retaliatory threats made by the abuser.
  • The child may be experiencing “sexual guilt”, or otherwise feel that they caused or perpetuated the abuse.
  • Young victims may not be able to identify the incidents as abuse. It may be seen as a “secret game” or made otherwise to seem “normal”.
  • The intricate complexities involving a child’s decision to speak out about abuse is illuminated in this 1991 study by Sorensen and Snow: How Children Tell: The Process of Disclosure in Child Sexual Abuse. The study examined 116 confirmed cases of sexual abuse and found that “79 percent of the children
    in these cases initially denied abuse or were tentative in disclosing. Of
    those who did disclose, approximately three-quarters disclosed
    accidentally. Of all those who disclosed, roughly 22% eventually recanted their statements.”

Clearly the psychological and emotional aftermath of sexual abuse is complex and, if not understood, may seem enigmatic. What we do know is that most children don’t tell.The AP investigation sites previous studies that conclude only one out of every ten victimized children will tell anyone who is in a position to do something about it.

We document roughly 2,000 students across the country over four years, yet the unfortunate reality suggests more than 20,000. And these are just the cases in the education system.

Further Reading:

American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry: Behavioral Signs of Sexual Abuse

Parts 2 & 3 coming next … “When Boys Cry: Gender-Bias and Sexual Abuse” and “How the Statute of Limitations Denies Justice in Sexual Abuse Cases.”