Sunday, April 14, 2013


Please join me! Everything you can find here, you'll find there, too. And more and better! ;-)

Thursday, April 11, 2013

The Harassment That Wasn't and What It Taught Me about the Interdependence of Misogyny and Racism

I have been experiencing street harassment since I was about 11 years old. As I walked down the street, grown men would make comments about my appearance, ranging from the mild to the crass. Sometimes it was annoying, often times it was frightening. While I was taught such things as to never accept a drink I had not seen poured and to stand up for myself if someone insulted me, no one ever showed me how to deal with unwanted "compliments" that left me feeling violated rather than appreciated.

As I experimented with ways to respond to such unwanted interactions, it was painful to learn that there was no such thing as the correct response. Whether I ignored the comments, challenged them or even attempted to educate with loving intent to the harasser on why his behavior was unwelcomed, I took a big risk in escalating this situation instigated by the simple act of being a woman who dared deigned to enter public space. Nothing I did or failed to do was going to prevent it from happening or ensuring that the encounter remained verbal.  Neither my peace of mind nor safety was in my hands. For all the excuses that people make for street harassment, the simple fact a person can be forced into an undesired interaction with no other option than to bear it is evidence of a power imbalance. The person who is targeted by the harasser has no true recourse.  She's damned if she does, damned if she doesn't.

The only thing that seems to work is collective intervention. That is, when others - men and women alike - rally around the person who is being targeted and communicates to the perpetrator that they won't abide by that behavior. Unfortunately, we are so fearful of becoming targets ourselves, such an intervention is not as common as it should be.

I remain haunted by past experiences of street harassment. As much as I understand intellectually that nothing I could've done would've sufficed, internalized sexism has a tight grip on the spirit. And so oes internalized racism for one of the most haunting experiences of negotiating the politics of the pavement involved the time I wasn't harassed.

Here is that story and what I learned from it.

Friday, April 05, 2013

Feminist Film Moment - The Accused


(Note: If this post is your first encounter with my Feminist Film Moment postings, kindly read the rules of engagement before reading, commenting, etc.)

Written by Tom Topor
Directed by Jonathan Kaplan

Synopsis:   A rape survivor and her prosecutor go after the men who cheered on the assault.

Moment: Prosecutor Kathryn Murphy apologizes to Sarah Tobias for cutting a plea deal and offers her a chance to tell her story.

Trigger Warning: Reference To Rape

Based loosely on the story of Cheryl Araujo, The Accused was arguably the first Hollywood picture to deal honestly with the way rape survivors are victimized by the criminal justice system.  As such it has several obvious feminist moments.

I selected this one because it isn’t obvious.  The film does a good job of showing the multiple ways in which classism throws a kink in the wheels of justice, and one way is by delineating the class differences between survivor Sarah and prosecutor Kathryn. At the start of the film, Kathryn is an ambitious by-the-book attorney for the state and agrees to a plea deal without consulting Sara because she has brought into the notion that Sara – a working-class woman with a criminal history who was drunk and high at the time of the assault – wouldn’t make a sympathetic enough victim.  After Sara confronts Kathryn for selling her out, Kathryn seeks another way to achieve justice for Sara.

So this is what I appreciate about this less-than-obvious feminist moment.  Here is a woman of privilege – socio-economic privilege – who not only admits that she was wrong, she finds a way to make it right. In a great scene before this one, after having her change of consciousness, Kathryn takes on the men in her office. For her to go from aligning herself with the patriarchal system that failed Sarah to vowing to expose the district attorney’s corruption if they stop her from prosecuting the men who cheered rather than stopped the rape for criminal solicitation is one of the film’s obvious feminist moments.

But for Kathryn to go to Sara and apologize to her is also a feminist moment. It’s a good cinematic example of allyship -- using one’s privilege to do the right thing even at risk to one’s immediate self-interest. It’s also a depiction of the power of sincere apology and corrective action.  Kathryn could’ve been incredibly righteous about finally doing the right thing, but she didn’t go there. She comes humble and doesn’t expect Sarah to give her cookies for doing the right thing. And that personal gesture – and the spirit behind it – is just as important as her political one.