Monday, September 15, 2014

The respect barrier

She is lucky to be alive.

On August 8th, adult film actress Christy Mack (above) was brutally beaten in her own home, allegedly by her ex-boyfriend, War Machine (yes, that is is his legal name having changed it from Jonathan Koppenhaver.)  War Machine, a mixed martial arts fighter, is said to have found Mack in bed with a male friend.  This allegedly resulted in the choking, beating, and sexual assault of Mack.  Mack suffered ten broken bones, a broken nose, a fractured limb, several broken and missing teeth, and a severely ruptured liver as the result of being kicked in the side.  War Machine fled for a time but was apprehended by police shortly thereafter.

On his Twitter account, Mr. Machine has made tweets in months prior to the assault where he proudly claims to have raped Mack.  He also wears a t-shirt that reads "I do alpha male shit" in his profile pic.
Apparently, such "alpha male" activities include bludgeoning women half his size and strength.  Perhaps the same "alpha male" logic can be applied to several posters in the comments section of sites carrying this particular news story.  Weighing in on the subject, these armchair pundits suggested that Mack somehow attracted or deserves her injuries given the nature of her profession.

The most polite word I can conjure for such thinking is "flapdoodle."

All of this bobbles in the thick of already turbulent waters.  Ray Rice and several other players in the NFL have been accused of committing domestic violence (as Vice President Joe Biden says, however, we really should just start calling it "violence."  There is nothing "domesticated" about it.)  Thinking individuals are left wondering how violence against women could ever be seen as a viable option in an industrialized nation of the 21st Century and how offenders can often evade proportionate penalties.  Without question there are numerous sociological factors that contribute to the presence of domestic violence, but here I am going to argue that our political leaders  and the news media that covers politics are contributing factors.  Not only do women remain an underrepresented population in our government, many of their male counterparts as well as commentators in the media create and reinforce attitudes that at best paint women as second class citizens and at worst...targets.
Let's take a look at a few politicians and their views on the crime of sexual assault:

Granted, it would be safe to say these views are extreme and that most leaders would not advocate such things for their female constituents.  But like pollutants in the atmosphere, these statements remain in the air, wafting about on the currents of the zeitgeist and feeding into attitudes and perceptions.  Additionally, what happens when women enter the political arena in an effort to lead and participate in the process?   How are they perceived and treated by their peers?  Perhaps more importantly, how are they covered and represented in political news media?

For her film Miss Representation, documentary filmmaker Jennifer Siebel Newsom created a montage of TV news clips where pundits and hosts made commentary on female political leaders.  Among the more noxious points in the film:

-One commentator called Nancy Pelosi, then Speaker of the House, "Wicked Witch of the West."
-Another said of Pelosi: "If you waterboarded Nancy Pelosi, she wouldn't admit to [having] plastic surgery."
-A headline on a news site labeled Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin as "The bitch and the ditz" respectively.
-Greta Van Susteren of Fox News asked Sarah Palin, "Breast implants.  Did you have them?"
-Bill O'Reilly, again of Fox News, asked a guest what the "down side" of having a female president might be.  "Besides the mood swings and PMS?" his guest responded.

If you can stomach it, take a look at those statements and scan them for subtext.  Once the infantile insults are removed, the true focus of what our media culture seems to want from female leaders is revealed.  Are they being asked about their stance on immigration reform?  On climate change?  Hell, even the budget?  Do we want to know about their stance on issues?  At other times, perhaps.  As the documentary shows, however, the discourse invariably comes back to questions of how a woman looks.  We're asking about breast implants, about plastic surgery, or why Angela Merkel won't buy a new outfit.  Yes, that's a foreign example but the principle remains the same and it's still our media in the reporting.  

Given this kind of treatment, is it any wonder that more women don't seek office or that when they do they aren't given serious and fair consideration?  Should we really be that perplexed that only 17% of Congress is composed of women and that fact places the U.S. in 90th place in the world in terms of women in legislatures?  The absence of basic respect can be quite the dissuading force...and it would be naive to presume that the disrespectful attitudes cited from the mouths of our own leaders and media in Miss Representation don't help mold every day social norms.

To prevent more incidents like Christy Mack or abused NFL wives/girlfriends, effective and comprehensive strategies and policies are needed.  This can't happen without more women involved in the process, having a say over the societal and legal mechanisms that affect their very health and safety.  When that population is excluded from the room when the decisions get made, it's hard to see how a fair and reasonable outcome can result.

Seriously, why is this shit even still a thing?

"Men are afraid women will laugh at them.  Women are afraid men will kill them." --Margaret Atwood

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

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