Newsflash: Victim-blaming is alive and well

First, read this article:
Woman says man groped her on United flight, and attendants kept bringing him whiskeys.

Here's some highlights:

Over the course of the next hour, Rafieyan says the 64-year-old repeatedly groped her and sexually harassed her.

Rafieyan, a married mother of three from Warren, New Jersey, said she was too “meek” to confront the man.

“...I felt trapped. I couldn’t leave the seat because I didn’t trust him near my daughter.”

Eventually, when her daughter asked to use the bathroom, Rafieyan says she was able to get up and report the groping to one of the flight attendants, who didn’t seem surprised. “She said, ‘I’m so sorry. We felt really bad putting him next to you, but there was nothing we could do. He was doing the same kind of stuff to the other flight attendant.’”

Rafieyan claims that even after she complained, the attendant served the already intoxicated man three more whiskey drinks and a small wine bottle. He became belligerent, accused several people of stealing his passport, and then refused to sit down again until the flight attendant threatened to divert the plane and land early because of his behavior. (Emphasis mine.)

So, it would seem pretty clear to any sensible person reading this that, at the *absolute* minimum, the belligerent, drunk groper should have been moved to another seat. But he really should never have been allowed on the plane in the first place, since, it's, y'know, against the law.

What's interesting to me is that, if you read this article on, you only have to read a few comments before someone calls this woman "Another whiny soccer Mom" and another person remarks, "Everybody wants a payday, nobody wants to work anymore."

And then you have gems like this one:

"If someone intentionally touched me once, it wouldn't happen multiple times again after the first contact. Is she hoping something comes from this, like more vouchers or 15 minutes? The timing is pretty obvious. If someone touches you, you get up and refuse to sit next to the guy. Then call the authorities if the crew doesn't handle it appropriately."

*THIS* is victim-blaming. It seems very obvious to me, and probably to everyone reading this, that comments like this one blame the victim, ignore the circumstances of the assault, and reinforce the tragically sexist and inaccurate attitude that sexual assault victims are *inherently suspicious* if they choose to report the incident. And EVERY article about sexual assault is FULL of them.

These are just the first examples I happened to find. I'm sure if I had the stomach to keep looking at other articles and other sites, I would find much more egregious comments and even more disgusting examples of rape culture. However, I don't want to cry at work today. I just want to say, to anyone who doesn't see the need to protest rape culture and victim-blaming: I have my reasons. This is just one of many.

Side note: Does it not occur to this commenter that it's unlikely the woman chose when to be sexually assaulted? Does he really think she said, "United is in the news, I should cash in"?!?! She reported the incident on March 29, well before United made the news for forcefully removing a paying customer from an overbooked flight. Obviously, the incident is getting more attention than it ordinarily would because of the police brutality and "dress code" sexism, but that doesn't mean there aren't a hundred other incidents that may have failed to get national attention because of "timing".

What is more likely: that no woman got assaulted on an airplane until after a doctor was dragged from a flight? Or, lots of women have been assaulted on airplanes, so many that it's not considered news-worthy until the same airline commits another, separate, more well-reported abuse of human rights?

I'll give you one fucking guess.

The Consequences of Elections and the Price of Cynicism

In the wake of Voldemort's election, there's been plenty of blame-storming.

Some people want to blame Hillary Clinton, and anyone who supported her in the Democratic primary, because they're convinced that if Bernie Sanders had been the Democratic candidate, he could have beaten Voldemort. And maybe he would have, we'll never know.

Some people are blaming President Obama, and saying that if he had been "more moderate", people wouldn't have been chomping at the bit to "over-correct" and vote Republican.

Some people are blaming Jill Stein and other third party candidates, and the people who voted for them.

Some people are blaming Republican legislation designed to prevent minorities and the poor from voting (and I don't disagree with them). Some people are blaming the media (and I completely agree with them). A lot of people are blaming Russia, and they have the evidence to prove it. Some people are blaming Julian Assange.

But I have my own theory: Student government is to blame. Student government helped get us into this mess.

Student government is meant to teach students about government and civic responsibility. This is what student government actually teaches kids:
- Government doesn't matter, and nothing they do is important.
- Anyone who runs for office is a brown-nosing resume-packer.
- The most popular candidate always wins.
- Being unqualified doesn't matter.
- If you elect the class clown, the only consequence is that assemblies become more fun.
- The teachers will step in if the president does a terrible job.
- The principal, school district, and parents won't let the school shut down or descend into chaos.

These lessons, consciously or unconsciously, form the basis of our political beliefs for the rest of our lives. And, they benefit the 1%, who don't want you to pay attention to politics or show up at the polls. The rich have a vested interest in convincing you that politics are hopelessly corrupt, and the laws they make are irrelevant. Your apathy is their best defense.

Some people don't vote because they don't live in swing states, and they are certain their vote won't make a difference.

Some people don't vote because of a lack of access - they can't get the time off from work, they can't get someone to watch their kids while they wait in line for hours at the polls, they don't have a state-issued ID card, etc.

Some people don't vote because they hate both candidates equally, and they are unable to separate the candidate from their platform. (I could write a whole other column about this problem, but I don't want to digress.)

And some people believe that no matter who represents them, it will make no difference in their day-to-day lives.

I was talking to my father recently about that very topic. He has a friend who hated President Obama* and was thrilled about Voldemort getting elected. He asked his friend, "How did Obama's presidency impact you negatively?" His friend had lots of responses, but ultimately had to admit that the President hadn't actually impacted his daily life.

I pointed out that if Obama had not managed to pass the Affordable Care Act, I wouldn't have health insurance. Being able to afford to treat my various pre-existing conditions has had a tremendously positive impact on my life. My father pointed out that what is known as "Obamacare" very closely resembles legislation that Republicans had put forth independently, and legislation that Mitt Romney successfully implemented in his own state. He also pointed out that the ACA was not made law in order to help people like me. The ACA became law because lobbyists for corporate health providers wanted it. "If anything the President - or any politician - did happened to benefit you, it was by accident."

My father is not alone in his cynicism.

I've thought about it a lot, and despite how furious I was during the Bush years, it's hard for me to come up with any ways that his actions affected me directly on a personal level. I was outraged over the Iraq war, but I didn't actually know anyone who was sent to Iraq. I didn't lose a family member or friend to the unjust war. I was enraged over what was happening to reproductive rights in South Dakota and other red states, but I lived in a blue state. My heart bled for those affected by anti-choice rhetoric, but I was never in danger of not being able to afford my birth control pills. I was vocal about the drug war, private prisons, racial profiling, and a million other issues that never affected me directly because I was a white woman living in blue states. I was never in any danger of being stopped and frisked. Bush bungled Katrina, and I cried for everyone affected - but I wasn't one of them. Sexism affects me on a personal level, but sexism exists worldwide no matter who's President. President Bush filled me with rage, President Obama inspired me, but the most you could say is that my taxes supported things I opposed.

Maybe part of the reason no one thinks it matters who the SCROTUS is, is that it takes so long for the consequences of politician's actions to become apparent. Four years, or eight years, is not always enough time for the country to reap what a political administration sows. We intererfered in the Middle East for half a century before those chickens came home to roost. We've been warned for decades about global warming, but Republicans continue to claim it's a hoax, even as the evidence mounts and the effects are felt in catastrophic natural disasters. When Congress de-funds public education today, it takes years for those under-educated children to become tomorrow's criminals. When Congress repeals anti-pollution laws, it takes years for affected communities to notice poisoned water, higher rates of cancer, and children with birth defects. When Congress repeals laws designed to prevent predatory lending, it takes years for another housing crisis and bank crisis to manifest. When the 1% benefits from the short-term effects, the rest of us suffer in the long-term.

It's no surprise that people think, "The President is just one person. How much can one person really accomplish?" They forget that the President appoints and hires an army of people who share his personal and/or party platform, to act on his, or the party's, behalf. Bush is responsible for the war-profiteering of Karl Rove, and everyone he hired. Voldemort is responsible for the actions of his cabinet of neo-Nazis and fascists. And, because he publicly advocated violence, racism, xenophobia, sexism, sexual assault, and mocking the disabled, he is responsible for an epidemic of bullying and a gigantic spike in hate crimes.

I will go one step further, and say that he is personally responsible for every single hate crime that has been committed in his name. He told "the second amendment people" to assassinate Hillary Clinton. He told us that Mexicans were criminals. He told us that refugees were terrorists. He told a generation of men, "Grab 'em by the pussy." And the fact that he went on to be elected President told every person watching that they could behave the same way, and get away with it.

Calls to suicide hotlines skyrocketed after the election results were announced, and it's easy to see why.

So, unlike student elections, when we'd vote for the hilarious anarchist, and somehow the candy would still be sold, the band would still get new uniforms, and someone would make sure there'd still be a class trip and a class gift and a prom, American elections actually matter. Here are some of the ways this administration could very much impact my life and destroy my standard of living:

- 45's anti-immigrant policy isn't just going to plunge the country into debt, it's going to cause major disruption in the food industry. Which means we'll soon be spending more money on lower-quality food. For people who live paycheck-to-paycheck, more money spent at the grocery store means less money spent on everything else, from rent to clothes to car maintenance.

- If the NEA is defunded, the not-for-profit I work for may have to cut staff or shut down entirely, and I could lose my job, and that would certainly affect me.

- If the ACA is repealed and I'm unable to get health insurance because of my pre-existing conditions, I will be unable to pay my medical bills, and that will affect me. It could, potentially, shorten my life considerably.

But none of this changes the fact that the actions of the government matter, even when they don't affect us personally. Even if you aren't a drug addict, you should still want drug addicts to receive treatment instead of jail time (if only because it's cheaper). Even if you don't have children, you should still want all children to have homes to live in, food to eat, and access to quality public education. Even if you are white, you should still want to end racism. Even if you're not an immigrant, you should still want a sensible immigration policy that acknowledges the contributions of immigrants. Even if you don't live in a state with voter-suppression laws, you should want every citizen to be able to exercise their right to vote - even if they might not vote the way you want them to. Even if you don't read the New York Times, you should still want them to be present in the White House press briefings. Even if you're a man, you should want women to be treated with respect. You should want them to have equal pay, you should want them to be able to defend themselves from domestic violence, and you should want them to be able to walk alone at night without fear of assault. Even if you've never been raped, you should want to see rapists prosecuted and convicted. Even if you're not Jewish, you should still be upset when white supremacists burn down a synagogue. Caring about people other than yourself and those in your immediate social circle is what makes us human. Compassion for strangers is the basis of human decency. To care only about yourself is the myopic worldview of the barbarian.

Politics is not student government. No teachers or administrators are going to step in and make sure America survives. (The closest analogous entity is the judicial branch, which the Republican administration is already seeking to undermine and eliminate.) We haven't, as the cynics among us would believe, chosen someone to rearrange the deck chairs on the Titanic. We elected someone who will either choose the captain who steers our ship into the iceberg, or very possibly, insist on doing it himself.

And we're the only ones who can turn this ship around.

- - -

* I asked him, "Why?!?" and he said, "Why not?!?" and I thought, "Because you shouldn't be friends with racists!" But if I said that, my father would've said that a person can hate Obama without being a racist, and I would've said, "Really? I'm not sure about that..." and it would be an entirely different discussion.


What's keeping me sane right now


Why I'm Glad I Let My Husband Keep His Name

I like to think of myself as an evolved, 21st century kind of woman. I believe in equality between women and men. Still, when my then-fiancé, Joe, told me he wanted to keep his own name when we got married, I had a cave-woman reaction: I felt like I was being rejected, and my femininity was being undermined.

We had already discussed our vows, and I had agreed (without hesitation) to forgo the traditional “obey”. Why should Joe have to promise to obey me, if I’m not asked to promise the same? That’s just silly and outdated. I hadn’t asked Joe to give up his career and become a fulltime house-husband, either, because, damn, this isn’t the 1950s!

But the name thing caught me off-guard. It had simply never occurred to me that my husband might not want to change his name. Why would he not want us to have the same last name, thereby symbolizing a unified family in the eyes of the world? Did he not want other women to know he was spoken for? Did he want people to think he didn’t respect me? Was he trying to “hedge his bets” in case the marriage didn’t work out?

I presented my concerns, he maturely and rationally explained his reasoning, and it actually brought us closer together. It helped us to clarify our pre-existing expectations about marriage, and it forced me to confront some unconscious biases.

“What’s wrong with my name?”

Why wouldn’t he jump at the chance to abandon the barely-pronounceable Slavic mess that is “Brofcak” and become a “Powell”? He pointed out that he has been Joe Brofcak for his entire life, and while there’s certainly nothing wrong with a man who chooses to abandon the label he has used to identify himself since before he could speak, he was uncomfortable with the idea.

My husband and I are both playwrights, but it had never occurred to me that he had spent years “making a name” for himself, just like I had. If he suddenly started publishing under the name, “Joe Powell”, he would, at least in one sense, be starting from scratch. The average man only has to worry about no longer being recognized by old friends on Facebook if they change their names, but the stakes for someone like Joe were much higher. Even if he published as “Joe Brofcak Powell”, people still might not know he was the same writer. I had assumed that he should care less about his career than I care about mine – even though we have the same job!

Once I realized this, it was obvious that I had, unconsciously, assumed that my husband should make a sacrifice for me that I would never be willing to make for him. And even though that sacrifice may be a tradition, that doesn’t make it any less unfair.

“Don’t you love me and want to be part of my family?”

He insisted that keeping the name he was born with didn’t mean he loved me any less – and it was ridiculous to think it did. It took some time for me to understand that he was not rejecting symbolically becoming part of my family, he was choosing not to symbolically reject his own family. He is proud of his Russian heritage, and did not want to give up that part of his identity. While there are thousands and thousands of Powells, there are very few Brofcaks, and I realized I couldn’t fault him for wanting to protect his name from dying out for as long as possible.

He rightly pointed out that just because people don’t share the same last name doesn’t mean they are not a family. A father who re-marries and take his new wife’s name doesn’t suddenly love his children from his first wife any less, even if they still have their mother’s last name.

When two women get hitched, or when two men tie the knot, neither of them is expected to change their surname, but that obviously doesn’t mean they’re not just as committed to their marriage as a straight couple. Why should I hold my husband to a different standard, just because I happen to be a woman and he happens to be a man? I realized that if I truly believe men deserve the same respect as women, I needed to respect his wishes.

“People are going to assume you’re a Powell.”

He acknowledged that yes, when I introduce him as my husband, people are most likely going to assume he was a Powell. He said that he didn’t mind being occasionally referred to as Mr. Powell, and that he would only correct the person (“Actually, it’s Mr. Brofcak; I kept my name,”) if it was an individual he was likely to speak to again in the future. But he wouldn’t go out of his way to make people uncomfortable, accuse them of being sexist, or act like a Masculininazi.

He also explained that most banks will still let a husband cash a check made out to “Ms. and Mr. Wife’s Name”, as long as he can provide a copy of the marriage license, so he would still be able to deposit the checks our families would give us at the wedding.

“People are going to think you’re the boss in our marriage.”

I’m not proud of this one, but it is something I said during the discussion. And Joe had to admit, he certainly knows women who would never consider letting their husbands keep their own names, because they would consider it defeminizing.

This is just one of those examples where feeling overrides logic, and where women’s hearts have just not caught up with our brains. If I keep my name, and he keeps his name, we’re doing the exact same thing, meaning we’re perfectly equal. But somehow, we see this as favoring men. Just as a group of five men and five women will be described as “mostly men”, and a man who speaks as often as a woman in a meeting will be accused of dominating the conversation, this is an example of lingering anti-male prejudices that we all have without even being aware of them.

Ultimately, what Joe pointed out is that, at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter what other people think of our marriage. I needed to be comfortable enough with my femininity to realize that equality between us is not a threat to me.

Because at the end of the day, he is still my husband, and he’s still going to give me the same respect any husband would give his wife. He’s still going to have dinner ready by the time I get home every night. He’ll still be the one to take time off from his career to stay home with the children (whose last names will obviously be Powell), if I decide we want them. I’ll still be the one to control our finances and pay our taxes, and he’ll still check with me before making any major decisions that affect both of us.

My husband and I have now been married for three years, and I’m glad I let him keep his own name. He has just as much right to his career, his family heritage, and his outside interests as I do to mine. Some women have made comments, like, “I guess we know who wears the pants in your family,” but I don’t let it bother me. (He can wear whatever he wants as long as he still does the laundry!)

And when I went with Joe to the premiere of his new play, and the ticket-taker jokingly called me, “Ms. Brofcak”, I wasn’t insulted. I didn’t feel defeminized. I was too busy being proud of my husband.

Further Reading:

Why are women still changing their names?

Why should married women change their names?

Why I’m not changing my name for marriage

The Plays of Kellie Powell

The Plays of Joe Brofcak

This piece was proofread by, and improved with the help of: Kat Helgeson, Kathleen O'Mara, and Adriana Jones.


Joe: "You were never this passionate about politics when Obama was President..."
Kellie: "I didn't have to be! You should have seen me during the Bush years. Want to see my collection of hate mail? I got doxed before doxing was even a thing!"

In retrospect, I do regret dialing down my political activism during the Obama administration, but at the time, I felt like I needed some rest.
Gay Rights

The Consequences of Hate


A community reacts to the death of 11-year-old Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover, who committed suicide after months of anti-gay taunts …and little action from his school.

Sirdeaner Walker, who has survived domestic violence, homelessness, and breast cancer, knew death could come suddenly -- but she could not have predicted it would find her 11-year-old son first.

Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover was a sixth-grader at New Leadership Charter School in Springfield, Mass. There, many of his classmates were initially strangers, as few of his friends from Alfred Glickman Elementary followed him.

On April 6, Sirdeaner Walker came home, walked up the stairs to the second floor of her home, and saw her son suspended from a support beam in the stairwell, swaying slightly in the air, an extension cord wrapped around his neck, according to police. He apologized in a suicide note, told his mother that he loved her, and left his video games to his brother.

Walker said her son had been the victim of bullying since the beginning of the school year, and that she had been calling the school since September, complaining that her son was mercilessly teased. He played football, baseball, and was a boy scout, but a group of classmates called him gay and teased him about the way he dressed. They ridiculed him for going to church with his mother and for volunteering locally.

"It's not just a gay issue," Walker said. "It's bigger. He was 11 years old, and he wasn't aware of his sexuality. These homophobic people attach derogatory terms to a child who's 11 years old, who goes to church, school, and the library, and he becomes confused. He thinks, Maybe I'm like this. Maybe I'm not. What do I do?"

His birthday, April 17, falls this year on the 13th National Day of Silence, a day on which individuals observe vows of silence for students bullied at school.

But instead of silence, Walker wants action from the school, which she said continuously ignored her, chalking the situation up to student immaturity. She said that every day her son left for school, he walked into a "combat zone" assigned to him because of his inner-city address. But he would not point a finger at specific classmates for fear he'd be called a "snitch."

Walker said that she is angry with teachers and administrators for not taking action, and she called on the state of Massachusetts last week to probe the school, hoping she might prevent other children from feeling as her son did.

"A lot of parents don't know the avenues open to them. A lot of parents don't know where to turn," Walker told The [Springfield] Republican.

In the days following Walker-Hoover's death, parents and community members have grown increasingly critical of the school system's approach to bullies and peer abuse, further fueled by administrators refusing to comment to local media.

Hilda Clarice Graham, an expert on bullies and a school safety consultant with International Training Associates, said students often use assumed sexual orientation as a main weapon against one another. "It's the hammer that hurts the most and is the most vulnerable and hurtful thing going," she said.

Nearly half of children between the ages of 9 and 13 have been bullied, and nearly 10% of those students say it happens on a daily basis, according to a study by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. In a 2007 Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network study, 86% of LGBT students said that they had experienced harassment at school during the previous year.

Days prior to Carl Walker-Hoover's suicide, he confronted a female bully who verbally accosted him. The event served as an apparent catalyst to Walker's suicide. The school's response was to have the two students sit beside one another during lunch for the next week to encourage conversation.

Graham says the school's response is not ideal because "for mediation to work, there must be equal power." She said bullies' goals are to hurt, and to depend on them to feel remorseful is not an effectual way to deal with them -- that victims are at a disadvantage when trying to make peace alone.

Graham added that schools should handle bullying on a small scale to avoid large-scale responses to tragic events.

"It's the most dramatic call to action a school can receive," she said. "Parents want a guarantee that this will never happen again."

Many residents came out in support of the Walker family in a school-sponsored vigil last Thursday night. Walker says school officials didn't invite her to the event. She said she heard from others but chose not to attend.

School superintendent Alan J. Ingram said on Thursday that cases of bullying must be addressed quickly and fairly, but added that many of the state's charter schools are autonomous and have their own policies. He said 11 of the system's schools have bullying-prevention programs, but most operate in elementary schools.

Peter J. Daboul, the newly elected chairman of the school's board of directors, said the board will have an emergency meeting to review the circumstances surrounding Walker-Hoover's suicide. He said the school follows the Springfield Public School System's protocols for dealing with bullies.

For now, Walker says she worries about her son's best friend, a heavy girl with whom Walker-Hoover would have lunch. Walker said the girl is still teased for her weight. "By whatever means necessary, I'm going to get the message across that the taunting has to end in the schools," she said.

More information and video.

As someone who was suicidal in grade school and junior high, and someone who was ostracized by classmates, this story really hit home for me. The sad thing is, there's really not much that teachers and administrators can do. They can stand up for bullied children, but they can't be everywhere at once. As long as kids are learning hate at home, they're going to bring it to school with them. And it seems like even this child's suicide hasn't made these kids feel remorse. What is it going to take?

It's Back Up Your Birth Control Day!

Right-wingers refer to emergency contraception (also known as EC, also known as Plan B) as "the abortion pill" but it is not the same thing as Mifeprex or RU-486. EC will not terminate an existing pregnancy. EC will not work if a woman is already pregnant. EC is a higher dosage of the same hormones found in birth control pills. EC, when used within 5 days of unprotected sex, can significantly reduce the risk of unintended pregnancy.

Every women can use a back up method. No contraception method provides 100% protection. And sometimes, mistakes happen – a condom breaks, a diaphragm slips, a woman forgets to take her pill. Or she has sex when she didn't plan to – or want to. In fact, women who use a regular birth control method account for just over half of all unintended pregnancies.

Emergency contraception gives women a second chance to prevent pregnancy. But they need to know about it and be able to get it in time. Even though the FDA has made Plan B available over-the-counter to women 18, the high cost of EC - usually between $40-60 in pharmacies nationwide - is a continuing barrier to access.

Here are some ways that you can get involved. There's a Facebook Group you can join - for fans of one-click activism.

It's abstinence-only lobby lobby back!

Today the National Abstinence Education Association is having their annual Capitol Hill lobby day. They're planning on meeting with legislators to ask them to continue funding ineffective, inaccurate, misleading and dangerous abstinence only education.

Amplify Your Voice has the full story and a call to action:

This is where you come in: the progressive blogosphere, the reproductive justice community, and youth advocates. We have to make sure that the NAEA's message is not the only side of the story that Congress hears tomorrow. For every lobbyist that a representative gets in their office tomorrow morning, we need 100 letters from our side to counter them.

I urge you to send this letter to your Congressperson, asking them to defund abstinence-only-until-marriage programs.

After a decade of these ineffective programs spending $1.5 billion to misinform and endanger the sexual health of countless youth, it is time to finally bring change to Washington and America.

Via Feministing.