A student of mine at Hunter College recently sent a tweet with an image of an advertisement for Bowlmore Lanes featuring a scantily dressed woman mounting a man who is bowling with the caption “Getting Jumped In An Alley Has Never Been This Much Fun.”
In the last fifteen years, the world has been told to believe that New York City has become a safer place, free of much of the crime and violence that used to occupy it’s streets. Yet, according to the NYTimes,
The number of rapes and attempted rapes recorded citywide so far this year has increased by more than 4 percent, to 1,058, according to Police Department statistics. The vast majority of those crimes involved a suspect and a victim who knew each other: about 12 percent of rapes involved strangers, according to statistics provided by Paul J. Browne, the Police Department’s chief spokesman.
With a rise in violent crimes, the city doesn’t need more advertismenets that make light of assault on people’s bodies.
NOW-NYC feels the same way and has requested that these ad’s be removed stating,
The ad attempts to poke fun at a serious issue - rape - and instead invokes the “just get over it ladies!” kind of attitude we’ve heard again and again this summer from our lawmakers, comedians, and other public figures. With ads like this, how can rape be taken seriously? Enough with the ads that confuse sex and rape and make that OK.
Tell the MTA to remove this ad from our city subways: mta-nyc.custhelp.com or call 511
Call out CBSOutdoor, the company responsible for subway ad space: 800.926.8834 or cbsoutdoor.com/contact.aspx
Call out Bowlmor CEO Tom Shannon on his ad: email@example.com, 212-777-2214
The Bowlmor CEO, Tom Shannon, has responded in defense of the advertisment saying “The ad is humorous and flirtatious, ” he said, according to Jezebel. “NOW’s position on this is extreme and laughable.”
We are surprised and disappointed that our recent advertisement - intended to be a humorous play on the words “bowling alley” - has been misinterpreted to advocate violence against women. Our company - consisting of hundreds of talented men and women - does not support abuse or violence in any form. Since its inception, Bowlmor Lanes has strived to be socially responsible and offer a family-friendly environment to our customers. We offer our sincere apologies to anyone who was offended by this advertisement. The campaign in question was scheduled to run throughout Aug. 2012, and is no longer in circulation. There are no plans to generate this campaign again.
So why are these ad’s still up in NYC? It’s time to take action and reach out to the CEO of Bowlmore lanes and the company responsible for subway advertisements to have these removed once and for all.
Once the veil is lifted, once relations between the sexes are seen as power relations, it becomes impossible to see as simply unintended, well-intentioned, or innocent the actions through which women are told every day what is expected and when they have crossed some line - Catherine MacKinnon
I am always stunned when I hear young activists romanticize the need for (largely Marxist forms of) communism in the United States. My astonishment of this wide-spread obsession with communism is not because I believe that nation-states should maintain or move towards neo-liberalism or capitalism; rather, it’s because I have yet to see an example of communism that creates global peace without domination or the continuous subjugation of women.
There is a tendency for young activists (at least in New York City) to wear trendy red shirts with images of Che in support of communism without understanding the political, social, economic and gendered implications behind the communist movement. I admit, before I stepped foot in Cuba I was one of those people. However once I saw the realities of a nation whose people live in fear to speak negatively about their leader (at the time, Fidel), where women still remain unprotected by the effects of domestic violence and sexual harassment, and where wide-spread access to abortion remains an issue, I locked up my infatuation with communism and put it in a box with the capitalism.*
In theory, communism sounds like paradise for anyone who supports equality and equal access to resources (without a gender or race lens). Communism is most simply understood as a classless, and stateless social order in which everyone has common ownership of production. However, in a world that is highly divided not only by class, but also on the bases of gender, race and ethnicity, the benefits of communism can be limited.
Within societies exist hierarchies that have subordinated women and people of color to such an extent that their oppression is perceived as natural. Communism’s neglect in mentioning or addressing women and people of color’s preexisting oppressions in relation to class oppression makes it a system that continues to not only subjugate women and people of color, but ignores the process of their creation as subalterns.
MacKinnon claims “[m]ens forms of dominance over women have been accomplished socially as well as economically, prior to the operation of law, without express state acts, often in intimate contexts, as everyday life” (p. 161). Likewise, despite the attempts to create an egalitarian society by communist leaders and its ‘fans,’ communism remains a system that is structured and maintained by male dominance and patriarchal visions of utopia. Unless we acknowledge how systems of domination have been created to place women and people of color in subordinate positions, communism remains just as harmful to oppressed groups as capitalism, neo-liberalism, and democracy.
A woman cries as she waits with other flood victims at the Convention Center in New Orleans, Thursday, Sept. 1, 2005. Officials called for a mandatory evacuation of the city, but many residents remained in the city and had to be rescued from flooded homes and hotels and remain in the city awaiting a way out. (AP Photo/Eric Gay), http://www.flickr.com/photos/nabibhr/5407928368/
On Monday, August 29th 2005, all eyes where on Hurricane Katrina when it hit the state of Louisiana. It was the fifth deadliest storm among recorded Atlantic hurricanes and the relative lack of status, power and resources put many women of color at risk in the hours during and years after Katrina’s wake (Knabb, Richard, Brown, Daniel & Rhome, Jamie, 2005).
Thousands of New Orleans residents – overwhelming poor, largely people of color, and majority black – were left alone to face one of the worst “natural” disasters in US history. In the case of Katrina, women, men and their accompanying children were left to die on the streets, in prisons and in nursing homes. Those who survived, were victims of sexual and physical violence in places of refuge, and were criminalized as “looters” by local authorities for fighting to obtain provisions such as food, water, medicine and diapers. Hurricane Katrina reminded the world of an ugly truth: the lives of women, the vulnerable, poor, and nonwhite remained insignificant to the US government (South End Press Collective (Ed.), 2007).
Despite the sheer number of women present in New Orleans, as well as their transparent economic disparities, the nation made no provisions to assist these families as Hurricane Katrina rolled in. No government official sought to ask what the needs of these women were in the event of a massive storm nor did they provide the adequate support necessary to provide them with either protection nor assistance in Katrina’s aftermath.
Rather, it was women’s rights organizations that stood up for these women. INCITE! Women of Color Against Violence was and remains a radical grassroots organization that challenged the economic, political and social structures of New Orleans that placed women of color in dire positions. INCITE! understood that women living at the intersection of systems of oppression were paying the price for militarism, the abandonment of their communities, and the ongoing racial and gender disparities in employment, income and access to resources and support (INCITE!, 2005). As a collective organization, they demanded that there be no further criminalization of survivors of the hurricanes and that attention be placed on those with the least access to privilege.
This evening, we sit quietly as Hurricane Isaac hit Haiti and now strikes New Orleans. Though we are well aware of the hazards and inequalities ‘natural’ disasters can inflict on a community, it appears as though most media attention has been placed on the 2012 GOP Convention, and feminists speaking on race and gender issues online remain silent on the potential impact of Isaac.
What has lead to such silence? Have the continuous strikes on our lands by “natural” disasters jaded us? Why are we so preoccupied with politics when destruction may come to the people of New Orleans once more? When did we become a community that waits for a disaster to strike before we take action?
In the moments before and in the wake of a disaster, there exist great possibilities for radical activists and local community members to address the deep veins of social injustices that exist and will likely remain long after the roads, homes, levees and bridges are rebuilt. We must not adopt the strategies of our nations government – we must address the issues that come with disasters head on, and before they arrive. Let us name the issues that still exist for women and men living in poverty in the city of New Orleans. Let us use our voices and fight for those who are, quite literally, silenced in the moments of a disaster.
After an incredible year in Costa Rica (and a few years by the beach in LA before that), my partner and I made the decision to move back to Brooklyn, NY where I will be teaching at Hunter College and my partner will be studying Traditional East Asian medicine.
The decision to move back to NYC was certainly not an easy one for us perpetual wanderers and lovers of wide open spaces. Though the thought of being closer to friends, family and the feminist community were exciting, the prospect of being back in a concrete jungle (rather than a lush green one) was a bit terrifying.
Nonetheless, here we are!
I adore this city for everything it has to offer but the process of settling was certainly trying. I assumed we would immediately find a home that we loved: in an area that was close to the best subways and friends, with a backyard where we could plant our organic garden and our dog, Joplin, could frolic in all year. I know - any NYer would say that we were crazy if we thought that could happen but we did find many of those spaces. The problem was getting accepted as renters.
See, for those of you who don’t know, NYC is so jam packed with people that the competition for housing is steep. If you are lucky to find a place before someone else grabs it, you then have to prove that you make 3x the rent, have proof of employment, a credit score of 700 (considered “good”) or have a co-signer who looks even better than that. As students (coming from an international location) we had no recent tax returns or employment. And though my partner and I started our own company, get paid well- but by contract - we didn’t have proof of a stable income. If you couple that with the intense amount of loans I have had to defer because, well, we are living in a recession (among other societal issues) - we don’t look that good on paper though we are probably better off than most (thanks to our hard work, pinching pennies, and the kindness of our parents).
In Costa Rica, we got our apartment off of craigslist and the landlord accepted us largely because we were nice, had friends in common (we only learned this after we spoke) and were both activists. There were no questions about our dog, income, or our personal lives, etc. So, you can imagine how much of a shock it was to be reminded of the extent to which the NYC housing hunt runs on image and money. If you have a good look, and lots of money, you are in. This city that is overly accepting of individuals also has a side that discriminates against those who are younger and haven’t had the opportunity to build up their “good on paper” image, live in a recession, and/or have decided not to join the masses in a “deskjobforlife” career by adopting an untraditional lifestyle (i.e. Travelers, artists, etc). Unfortunately, we fit all of those categories.
After being told that we couldn’t live in a few apartments because we didn’t have “the right look on paper” or because we had a service dog (which, by the way, is illegal to say) we have finally settled into a little and adorable apartment in South Park Slope.
I am completely in love with our new home (see picture below), but I don’t want to forget about the process that we had to go through to get here. I know that we are not the only ones who faced such difficulties in finding a home and it’s important to me that something shifts with NYC real estate laws. I can only imagine how difficult it is to be a single woman of color, a undocumented citizen, a retired veteran, and/or persons with disabilities looking for good housing in this city.
At some point this year, my partner informed me of the fury that was rising surrounding the new bestselling “mommy porn,” Fifty Shades of Greyby British author E.L. James. With a course load of readings from my masters program, little down time and absolutely no interest in reading yet another text that supported the submission of women in relationships, I was quick to push this book out of my mind and off my bookshelf.
But, after reading one critique after another from my fellow feminists, I realized it was silly of me to ignore a piece of literature that had so many people up in arms. And so, I sat down to read the first book of Fifty Shades of Grey while celebrating my birthday at a little hot springs in Costa Rica.
To be honest, I began reading this novel with the belief that I would ultimately find the concept okay; I had heard that it was largely about BDSM (Bondage, Discipline, Dominance, Submission, Sadomasochism, Sadism, Masochism) and though I don’t believe I could ever partake in such a relationship, I have never denied the fact that others obtain pleasure from this subculture. However, what I found to be the basis of Fifty Shades of Grey was not erotica or BDSM, rather it was the story of a man, Christian Grey, who had experienced severe amounts of physical and emotional trauma as a child and whose only way of feeling sexual and emotional pleasure was by dominating others.
In the book, Christian Grey’s partner, Ana, has fallen in love with a man with a dark past and she tries to save him all the while negotiating whether or not she can actually be the submissive partner he wants and “needs.” But the submission isn’t only in the bedroom or the “Red Room of Pain,” as she calls it. Grey’s desire to dominate and control Ana is translated into their daily lives where Grey demands that Ana remains obedient: doesn’t talk with other people, dresses in the clothes he chooses, waxes all of her body hair and exercises based on his schedule (oh, and she is able to negotiate this one to only work out three days a week rather than four, Yippie! - insert sarcasm). Yes, Grey learns to love it when Ana talks back and asks questions, but largely because it means that her “defiance” will lead to punishment, which Grey deeply enjoys giving by “fucking” and “spanking” her.
In my personal experience, this is a tell-tale sign of domestic abuse… of a man who is only able to work through his past traumas through, often literally, beating others into submission. In reading this book, I couldn’t help but be reminded of many cases of domestic violence that I know of - of men and women who were victims of violence in the home as children and grew up to act out that violence on others.
The author, E.L. James, appears to want her readers to feel bad for Christian Grey and to understand the root of his violation on the bodies of others. I agree that it is certainly important to understand the root causes of violence and provide those who have experienced it with the necessary support - but it is not, and will never be a sexy or erotic journey.
I did not find Fifty Shades of Grey as a book that could or should have all the girls desiring a man who dominates them, as major newspapers and articles have expressed. It is a book about one man’s violence over another, of the desire and need to be healed, and of a young woman’s tumultuous and heartbreaking journey of falling in love with a man who doesn’t know how to love her tenderly.
I admit that I will most likely read the other books to see how the author chooses to continue this sad and often disturbing story. But I will be crossing my fingers that Grey gets the help that he needs and deserves, and that Ana finds the strength to love herself enough to walk away.
Some excerpts from the book:
"Why don’t you like to be touched?" I whisper, staring up into soft grey eyes. "Because I’m fifty shades of fucked up, Anastasia." Oh… his honesty is completely disarming. I blink up at him
"Because I think I love you, and you just see me as a toy. Because I can’t touch you, because I’m too frightened to show you any affection in case you flinch or tell me off or worse - beat me? What can I say? - Ana
And after spanking her: Siting beside me, he gently pulls my sweatpants down again. Up and down like whores’ drawers, my subconscious remakers bitterly. In my head, I tell her where to go. Christian squirts baby oil into his hand and then rubs my behind with careful tenderness — from makeup remover to soothing balm for a spanked ass, who would have thought it was such a versatile liquid. - Ana
He’s not a hero; he’s a man with serious, deep emotional flaws, and he’s dragging me into the dark. Can I not guide him into the light? - Ana
We exists as women who are Black who are feminists, each stranded for the moment, working independently because there is not yet an environment in this society remotely congenial to our struggle—because, being on the bottom, we would have to do what no one else has done: we would have to fight the world.
Michele Wallace - Black Feminist’s Search for Sisterhood (via jasmineburnett)
In an article posted by the NYTimes yesterday, it was reported that “[m]ore than half of all of African-Americans and other non-Hispanic blacks in the [New York] city who were old enough to work had no job at all this year…” And, if that isn’t enough of a staggering number, black New Yorkers who lose there jobs spend an average of one year trying to find a new one.
The article claims one reason for this is that blacks have been largely employed in government agencies, construction and manufacturing - all fields that have suffered the most in the economic depression. Moreover, blacks tend to occupy what Dr. Frank Braconi, chief economist for the city comptroller’s office, calls the middle market in the labor force in terms of wages and education. And it is this middle market that has been the most affected by the recession.
Blacks are now required to hold a Bachelors or Masters degree to compete in the market they once occupied in order to obtain economic stability. But as most people of color know, a long list of academic accomplishments doesn’t and has never necessarily lead to the equivalent salary and benefits as our non-black counterparts.
Though I have no doubt that this study is spot-on, the reality is that people of color across time have always faced either the lowest employment rates and/or the lowest salaries/benefits.
Historically the unemployment rate for African Americans age 16 years and over has been higher than that of the total labor force:
And though the number of African Americans in the labor force that have graduated from college increased from 16 percent in 1992 to 24 percent in 2009:
The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported in 2010, that unemployment rates actually fall as educational attainment increases. “In 2009, the unemployment rate for African Americans 25 years and over without a high school diploma was over 21 percent, while the jobless rates for high school graduates and those graduating with a bachelor’s degree and higher were 14.0 and 7.3, respectively.”
There is no doubt in my mind that we continue to live in a society that conveniently places people of color in service industries where increased education and skills training make it more difficult for us to reach the top. Perhaps we need to stop putting all of our attention in looking at the economy and begin looking at the social dynamics that have placed “minority” groups in positions of lesser economic prosperity.
Cait Oppermann and Yael Malka* are recent graduates of Pratt Institute in Brooklyn. They received their BFAs in Photography and are now preparing for a two-month long trip across Europe (as well as Turkey and hopefully Morocco) starting in July. What they really want to do is make a book of the photographs and text they collect on their trip.
Because their work is so deeply rooted in American culture, they’re both excited and curious about taking on a completely different set of cultures and visual language.
To learn more about the project, check out their Kickstarter page!
*Yael Malka also happens to be the sister of one of my oldest and kindest friends from High School, The Beacon School.
In previous posts (first here, then here), I spoke about the eurocentric symbolism of the graduation cap and the difficulties it has given to natural haired people of color who are embarking on the glorious journey of graduating from their academic institutions.
I made a strong personal stance and stated that I would choose to break the tradition of the academic regalia by not wearing the cap at my graduation. With this, I asked that all of you do the same in honor of your self, your accomplishment, heritages, decisions to go natural and/or in support of your natural haired colleagues.
The response that I received was outstanding - Young women with natural hair, whom I have never had the pleasure of meeting, wrote to me to say that they were struggling with their graduation cap and were grateful that I had given them a space to honor who they were. Friends of friends from Europe wrote that they had experienced the same issues as graduating students, and members of my own graduating class at the United Nations University For Peace came out in numbers to show their support by removing the cap.
I was further surprised by the reaction of my universities Vice Rector and Rector, who made positive references to my decision to remove the cap, and told our class that we were “mature” in the ways that we challenged the institution, and “the cap was a symbol of that.”
The reactions of my local and global community stand as an example of the power of standing up for what you believe in. You never know how your community or institution will react unless you take action.
With that, I am sharing with you an image from my cap-less graduation. I hope that you will share yours with me as well and continue to encourage graduating students to remove the cap in the years to come.